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Title: Bagatelle and Some Other Diversions Author: Marjorie Bowen * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1303971h.html Language: English Date first posted: Jul 2013 Most recent update: Jul 2013 This eBook was produced by Colin Choat. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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A Collection of Chinese Rarities in the possession of Karl August Graf von Aspremont Reckheim at the Château Halstadt in the Archbishopric of Salzburg. [The Empire, 18th century.]
Five Musical Themes
a flourish for drums
With an accompaniment for trumpets set for the Imperial Army of the Czar of All the Russias under Prince Zadikov at the Château Brockenstein. [Bohemia, 18th century.]
Variations on a Spanish theme composed for the Duque de Sommaja by Carlo Barlucchi. [Spain, 18th century.]
a tune for a trumpet
Set for the Imperialist forces under the command of Albrecht von Wallenstein, Duke of Friedland, Sagan, Glogau and Mecklenburg, Count Palatine, at Castle Karolsfeld, outside Nuremberg. [The Empire, 17th century.]
A Florentine night-piece composed by Nicolo Antonio Porpora for His Serene Highness the Grand Duke Gian Felice of Florence. [Italy, 18th century.]>
a fanfare for silver trumpets
Set for His Most Catholic Majesty King Philip V of Spain on his arrival at Madrid. [Spain, 18th century.]
homage to the unknown
A Burletta performed before His Serene Highness the Margraf Karl Wilhelm of Baden-Dürlach and His Excellency the English Resident, Sir William Fowkes, in the theatre of the château at Karlsruhe, on the occasion of the birth of his grandson, Karl Frederic, afterwards first Grand Duke of Baden, in 1728. [Italy, 18th century.]
supper with madame olshausen
...And Prince Clement Louis of Grafenberg-Freiwaldau, Generalissimo of the Imperial Forces, in a summer pavilion outside Mons. [Spanish Netherlands, 18th century.]
a promenade in the coliseum
A design by Giovanni Battista Piranési for an Almanac by John Evelyn, Esq. [Rome, 18th century]
a summer noon in rome
A philosophic discussion between the Queen of Sweden and some others in the fountain court of a palace in Rome. [Italy, 18th century.]
a visit to verona to see the ruins of the amphitheatre
"When the sun grew troublesome it was the custom to draw a covering or veil quite over the Amphitheatre. This veil they oftentimes made of silk, dy'd with scarlet, purple or some such rich colour. The effect the colour of this veil had upon the audience that sat under it is finely described by Lucretius." (Remarks on several Parts of Europe by J. Breval, Esq., 1726.) [Italy, 18th century.]
Told to the Cardinal Archbishop, Prince Louis de Rohan, at Strasbourg, of the Maréchal le Duc de Villars and the revolt of the Camisards. [Cevennes, France, 18th century.]
The Author who offers these tales has called them Bagatelle (a game, a diversion, a trifle), having been moved to write them through the poignant appeal of those aspects of the past, the decorations of peoples and an age long since gone, which to most appear but a game, a trifle—bagatelle. They might be named, too, stories of empty palaces, of closed mansions, of deserted castles, built to affront the enemy in the game of war, or to entertain the friend in the game of pleasure.
The roofless towers of Karolsfeldt where the oak grows near the hearth of the great hall and the trees of the heavy forest have encroached up to the fallen walls—the tarnished mirrors in the gilt and stucco pavilions hidden in airy woods or agreeable parks—a lonely villa on the Brenta—a straight-fronted, shuttered palace facing the fountain where the gladiators washed their wounds outside the Roman Coliseum—a secret and dark-balconied residence in a narrow street of Madrid—an extravagant château close to the Russian frontiers...These places in their loneliness, decay, neglect and partial ruin still mark the quiet solitudes or forgotten streets of European cities and possess for some a bitter-sweet fascination.
These dwellings, where the long-since dead kept their toys and beguiled the nostalgia for the unattainable (with which we are all so desperately familiar), are easily peopled by phantoms that soon take a definite shape and play out their own story without any help from the writer, who takes the part rather of transcriber than that of author; he is, at least, conscious of no invention and endeavours to describe people and scenes that arise as naturally from these ancient habitations, parks, pleasaunces, as mist from a lake at the close of an autumn day, or pungent perfume from a plucked and dying flower.
Some of the episodes are grim enough; behind the ribbons, the lutes, the cupidons, grins the mask of tragedy; yet—bagatelle—all of it, for these people are dead and seen through the medium of a dream.
They inhabit no known country, but they claim an eternal existence in those memories of the past that torment, perplex and solace some of us; they are purged of grossness; gorgeous ghosts, they enact their parts splendidly, their passions are romantic, their actions seldom lack the heroic outline; since they died their persons have taken on a richer beauty, their characters a nobler cast; they are grander than when they lived; so much we may allow them in recompense for the dust that covers their memories.
Their tragedy shows through a veil of resignation; their comedy is hard, cynical and grotesque, they have a little the air of actors who have played the same part many times, for they are perfect in their words and easy enough to flourish in their gestures; most of them are profoundly lonely and some profoundly unhappy; all feel cheated, thwarted in ambition or passion, or dissatisfied to agony with the bagatelles of their moment.
It may be protested that they are to the last degree artificial, mere puppets adorned with tinsel, but to those who understand them they have the essence of accomplished, successful humanity, disappointed (as always) in its final achievement; they are worldlings defying their own negation; they are creatures who pile up games and trifles at higher cost with fiercer greed, the more they realize their own futility; the men taste the brittleness of success, the women the limits of beauty; all, men and women, pursue each other in vain hoping to clasp the long-lost, the perfect lover, and always embrace delusion.
Their world is opulent about them and all is man-created; they move in palaces, pavilions, parks, gardens; if they glimpse a cottage, a heath, a field, they turn away wearily; the open country means a battle, a hunt, or boredom; to a siege, a chase, a march, a journey, they desperately carry the elements of carnival, music, players, clowns, dwarfs, fine clothes and furniture.
They discuss philosophy (that cloudy disguise of lack of faith), they bandy terms, but they believe in nothing save their own secret and endless disappointment.
The writer who has evoked them despairs of rendering them as they appear to his "inner eye," but has not lacked earnestness in the attempt.
A Collection of Chinese Rarities in the possession of
Karl August Graf von Aspremont Reckheim at the Château Halstadt in the
Archbishopric of Salzburg. [THE EMPIRE, 18th Century.]
The covered waggon, with faded blue hangings drawn closely at the sides, halted at last, after a long journey, at the gates of Château Halstadt, one of the finest mansions in the Archbishopric of Salzburg. Captain Engel van Dollart dismounted from beside the driver's seat, gave a thick grunt of relief, took off his shabby hat and scrub wig to wipe a bald, glistening head while he gazed stolidly, unimpressed but satisfied, at the handsome stone piers and rich scroll work of the gates that bore, in every possible space, the arms of Aspremont Reckheim and Zringi.
The Dutchman then eyed the waggon with alert suspicion, as if he feared that some one behind the curtains would draw these and look out; but the rough canvas was not disturbed; the two stout horses stood patient, sweating in the sun; the German coachman and the German grooms on horseback waited with stupid indifference for the Captain's commands.
This personage called up his Dutch servant, a heavy fellow with a waddling gait.
"This is the place, Cornelis. A fine estate, hey? A very wealthy patron, hey?"
Master and man smiled at each other slowly; Cornelis replied with a placid grin:
"You were sure of that, Captain, before you took so much trouble. It has been a very tedious journey."
"A very tedious journey," repeated Van Dollart. "Now I get the reward for it, hein? While I am inside you guard the waggon—careful, Cornelis, careful and prudent to the last. One never knows."
The gate-keeper had now opened to the modest cortége; the covered waggon turned and was driven up the long avenue that emphasized the correct splendour of the mansion. Captain van Dollart followed on foot; it was an August day, clear azure gold, a few snow-white cloudlets floating above the tall trees; on the double-winged staircase of the château, Warriors and Virtues in stone guarded the pretentious entrance; above the tympanum a flag curled on a pole; a glitter of gold threads outlined the arms of Aspremont Reckheim and Zringi.
Van Dollart despised and detested all this display; he was in love with his misty native flats, his trim house of neat dull pink brick with the precise step-gable in the Prinzengracht at Amsterdam, his quiet, heavy wife with the double chin and starched linen hood and collar. Van Dollart was a dour Churchman, a good citizen and, as a man, had only one fault—this was, perhaps, sufficient—he would have done anything for money.
Giving a jealous glance at the covered waggon he ascended the wide stone steps, entered, sombrely and rudely, the grand open doors and asked the waiting lackeys for their master.
The valet stared at the large uncouth man with his clothes of a seaman's cut, his formidable pistols, his resolute, ugly, leather-skinned face, and listened to his broken German.
"Tell your master that I have brought—what he asked for—Captain van Dollart of the 'Water Dog,'" said the Dutchman firmly and cautiously. "It is outside in the covered waggon—what he asked me to get."
While the message was being taken to the master of the château, Van Dollart waited indifferently among the fine marbles, sparkling lustres and silken tapestries of the vestibule. From the window he kept his eye cocked at the covered waggon on the gravelled space beyond the steps, with Cornelis hulking in front of the blue curtains, and beasts and men waiting patiently in the sun.
In a few moments he was conducted into the presence of Graf Aspremont Reckheim, whom he greeted with an odd surly lack of respect.
The noble owner of Halstadt had finished his early repast and was sitting in complete idleness over a stale copy of the "Gazette de France." He was a man more fortunate than Van Dollart (who despised him), believed any man had a right to be; his descent was partly Hungarian; his father's mother was a relation of that Emeric Tekéli who had fought with the Turks against the Emperor Leopold, and his own mother had been a sister of the elegant Zringi who had been executed in Vienna, but who was better remembered for the long, high-waisted coat he had made fashionable in Paris. The Aspremont Reckheims, very loyal subjects of His Imperial Majesty, had inherited the two immense fortunes of these rebel Hungarian Princes, and their present sole representative had received the rank of General Commandant of Hungary, which post gave him, a good Catholic, fine opportunities of keeping in order the Protestants his ancestors had died to assist. Nor had he neglected these chances and was, in consequence, so keenly hated by the Magyars that he sometimes found it agreeable to leave his famous palace at Vesprim (which rivalled that at Kassel for magnificence) for the more sober splendours of Halstadt. Van Dollart, grim Protestant, loathed this ruthless persecutor of the faith, Van Dollart, honest, sober citizen, quiet family man, detested this costly libertine of whom he had never heard anything save what he considered evil, but he continued to serve him, for Aspremont Reckheim paid with lavish prodigality.
For years the Dutchman had brought rarities and curiosities from the East and sold them to the purchaser who never haggled over increased prices; every voyage "The Water Dog" took from Amsterdam there were commissions from General Graf Aspremont Reckheim; each time something more uncommon, more difficult was required, for the soldier was one of the most considerable collectors of his age. Van Dollart was always very clever in nosing after these treasures, very adroit and unscrupulous in obtaining them, very greedy in asking more and more of those orders which, slipped across the tables of an Amsterdam bank, were so readily changed into good golden florins.
In this very room lined with pale green brocade were vases of celadon, clair de lune, and Imperial Yellow, adorned with prunus and magnolia blossom, which Van Dollart had obtained by not the most fastidious means and sold at not the most reasonable figure, while the Ching-Té bowl with fishes in copper-red (three hundred years old, at least) which now held the sugar for the chocolate, had cost the blood of some obscure heathen.
"I expected you before," remarked the nobleman pleasantly; he never asked the Dutchman to sit, but his courtesy was otherwise perfect.
Van Dollart replied without any title of respect.
"What you asked was not easy. I doubted I should do it at all. The return voyage was delayed. And," added the Dutchman grimly, "it was a rough overland journey from Amsterdam. And I had to come myself, there being no one I could trust with a matter like that."
"So I suppose. I believe you always earn your money."
"Amsterdam, Cologne, Coblenz, Frankfurt, Würzburg," recited the Dutchman, checking the stages of his travels on his coarse fingers, "it has been very expensive."
"You want more than I promised—the five thousand rix dollars?"
"Yes. There would not be much profit on that."
"I'll pay more. If the merchandise is worth it—"
"Eight thousand rix dollars?"
"Yes." Graf Aspremont Reckheim agreed easily; he would win half that by the bet with Culembach—besides, this particular rarity was worth it; he smiled in a way that made the Dutchman frown, though most people would have thought the nobleman very agreeable to look at. His notorious face and figure had the dark, swift, impatient Magyar grace and beauty; his name of Karl August suited him very ill, for he had nothing of the Teuton. As the Dutchman pouched the bankers' order he would (without scruple had it been safe to do so) have strangled his customer for a base, dangerous, subtle beast from the East—like the cruel black panther or the sly, slim snake...a persecuting Papist too.
Almost Van Dollart was tempted not to trade with him again...almost—but the money?
Karl August looked at the Dutchman as if he understood those slow thoughts of hate, and continued to smile. He had good cause; he had always obtained what he wanted, and till now, at thirty years of age, he had contrived to escape both conscience and satiety. He had no complaint to make about fortune, and fortune by her continued gifts seemed to show that she had no complaint to make about him; he certainly graced his destiny and embellished all the favours he received from an immoral providence.
"Is she beautiful?" he asked; then added, "You would be no judge."
"The Chinese woman."
"I never thought about it—she is Chinese."
"You have her here?"
"Yes, in the covered waggon."
"Is she sad, afraid, angry?" smiled Karl August.
"I don't know. She has never said anything—how should she? She speaks only Chinese."
"You have really been very clever to get her—how did you?"
"A tale better not told. We went inland as far as Chuchow. We had to kill several heathen and one of my men got an ugly cut. Never mind. She is the daughter of what they call a Mandarin—a Princess to them. I can tell you, eight thousand rix dollars is low."
"If she is really beautiful I will give you more. You know I have never cheapened my pleasures." It had always been his pride not to do so; he had always led every fashion, exploited it in the most costly and extravagant way, and never bargained the price; at Vesprim he had a hermitage, a classic ruin in marble, a village of dwarfs, a pyramid, and a temple above a cascade; at Halstadt he had kept his Chinese curiosities; a pagoda, a pavilion, a garden, and, in the house, the rarest collection of famille rose, overglaze of Wan-Li and Chia-Ching, T'ang and Sung ware.
And an exquisite assortment of women's clothes and ornaments.
It was these which had first made him want a Chinese woman to complete his rarities; as he looked at the lines, lustres and lights of the translucent porcelain, this want had become a desire; when Culembach had bet him four thousand rix dollars that he could never gratify so fantastic a wish, the desire had become a longing; while skilfully and cruelly repressing a rebellion in Transylvania his secret thoughts had been of little else than the Chinese woman.
He went to the window, gazed beyond the curtains of peach-bloom velvet made to match the vases Captain van Dollart called "liver-coloured"...there was the small covered waggon, the horses patiently waiting...a Chinese woman inside...Culembach would be furious, not only because of the money, but out of jealousy; neither he nor any other man of Karl August's acquaintance, however much they might boast of their experiences, had ever possessed a Chinese woman.
Van Dollart grinned at him, showing tobacco-stained teeth.
"Will you please come and take her? I want to be on my way."
Karl August preceded the Dutchman into the summer sun; he was considering the sumptuous, exquisite effects he would achieve with his new possession, how delicately she would be lodged in the pagoda of peacock blue tiles, in the pavilion of green and yellow lacquer, and how tastefully he would adorn her from his store of jade, rock crystal, onyx, malachite, rose quartz, enamelled gold and filigree silver.
As they descended the steps the Dutchman said with dull malice:
"She is not alone."
"She has a servant? I told you to provide that."
"No. There is some one I had to bring with her from China."
Karl August paused on the step and looked up; with his hand on his hip, his black hair yet undressed, curling on his shoulders, and his air of swift action impetuously arrested, he seemed like the model for one of the heroic gaudy statues behind him, who flaunted stone plumes into the rich air.
"Who have you brought?" he demanded. "I thought I could trust you, Van Dollart."
"The person who is with her," replied the slow Dutchman, "is better able to look after her than anyone I could have supplied. As a Papist, you will agree."
"As a Papist?" The stare of Aspremont Reckheim was contemptuous for the insolent heretic.
"It is a nun."
"A Christian nun?"
Van Dollart grinned with delight at the impasse before the detested customer.
"Truly a Papish nun. There is a missionary station at Chuchow. They try to convert the heathen. I don't grudge them the name of good women."
The Dutchman licked over his words, considering with relish the dark face turned on him with such angry expectancy.
"One of them was abroad on her errands when she saw us taking the Chinese lady away. And followed. She marched after us to Hangchow. She tried to rescue the Chinese lady. I prevented that, but I couldn't make her leave, she stayed with her day and night."
"And you allowed it?" asked Karl August fiercely.
"My men would not interfere, they thought they had done enough. There was a manner of superstition about it, though one was a heathen and the other a Papist."
"But I thought you had more resource?"
"Resource? I should have had to kill one of them to get them apart. You can do that yourself."
Karl August was not so exasperated as the Dutchman had hoped to see him; his flash of wrath passed; as violence (unchecked, unpunished) was always in his power, he had not yet met a situation with which he could not deal. He descended the stone stairs, leaving the heavy Dutchman behind, and stood before the covered waggon. Cornelis eyed him with stolid curiosity, the Germans were all humility, one drew the blue curtains. Karl August was so eager to see the Chinese woman that he scarcely concerned himself about the nun; but, as they were seated side by side, he could not observe one without observing the other.
The Chinese woman was very beautiful, exactly like those ladies in lacquer, porcelain, rice-paper painting, carved stone and ivory already in his possession; she was pale, pallid gold in complexion, with ebony eyes and hair and a smooth small vermilion mouth, her robe was dead-leaf brown and flecked with those broken lines used by Chinese artists to represent cracking ice; two pins of lapis lazuli were in her glossy locks; the nun wore the garb (rather soiled) of the Ursulines; Karl August saw at once that she was French and well-bred.
"Is it possible?" she asked, "that you are General Aspremont Reckheim, the instigator of this heartless outrage?"
"I am indeed. Captain Van Dollart has, no doubt, informed you."
"Everything." The nun spoke more in compassion than indignation. "You have actually spent a fortune to abduct this unhappy creature from her home and country, and for what purpose?"
"Merely to complete my collection of Chinese rarities."
The nun gave him a challenging look; he had the impression that she was a woman of some experience, and might if a bigot, prove difficult, but he did not greatly concern himself about her because he was so enraptured with the Chinese woman who, for her part, neither spoke nor moved.
He begged them to alight and they obeyed, the Chinese woman responding to a touch from the nun; the covered waggon with the curtains now drawn moved away, the Dutchman staring back with a sombre curiosity and a sulky vindictiveness.
Never had Karl August viewed any dearly-bought treasure with such satisfaction (and he had had his moments of delicious achievement) as he now felt on gazing at the Chinese woman; he was even grateful to the nun for giving her company and protection; nothing, he began to consider, more suitable could have been devised, and he would be willing to return the zealous missionary to China at his own cost.
He conducted them to the Chinese pavilion which he called after the fashion of the day, Bagatelle, and there suggested that the nun should take refuge in one of the convents at Salzburg until she felt inclined to journey back to Chuchow.
The nun declined to leave her charge.
"She is neither a slave nor a toy, monseigneur."
"I happen to have bought her, madame."
With that pity which, with her, took the place of scorn the nun informed him that a human being could not be traded, and that the Chinese woman was a princess, a person of education and culture, that her family would be in grief and desperate mourning for her, and that she herself, during the tiresome voyage by land and sea and land again, had endured every possible discomfort and alarm, "Consoled only by my company, monseigneur."
Karl August, with folded arms, leaning inside the pavilion door, listened while the nun pleaded the cause of the Chinese lady who showed no concern, but stood meekly, her hands in her sleeves.
"The least that you can do, monseigneur, is to return her to her home. I am willing to accompany her to Chuchow."
"Why," he asked, "do you take such a considerable interest in a heathen, a creature held to be of less account than the heretics who are slaughtered like rats in Hungary?"
"She is a woman," replied the nun, "and for your deeds of violence of which you boast, may God forgive you!"
"You try my patience," said Karl August, "the Chinese woman is mine and I shall do as I please with her. I intend you no harm, but do not provoke me. I command much power."
"But I more," the nun defied him, "God, the Pope, and the Emperor are behind me."
Karl August was slightly uneasy at this; he reflected that the three personages she had mentioned were all bigots, and that he owed his own high fortunes to the fact that he had assumed bigotry; no slight to the Church was ever tolerated in the Empire.
"If you attempt any harm to this noble maiden," added the nun gently, "you will bring on yourself the retribution for all your crimes."
Karl August considered this amusing, but tiresome; he asked the nun if she understood Chinese: "if so, demand of the woman if she cannot be content here."
"I speak very little Chinese, but I can assure you that she will die of a broken heart and home-sickness."
Karl August returned to the château, considering how he should, with some decorum, be rid of the nun. The situation was almost stupid, almost touched him with ridicule...he cursed Van Dollart...the man was either a fool or malicious...the nun must go before Culembach knew of her presence...the Chinese woman must appear at the supper where and when he claimed his bet. Meanwhile he sent down to the pavilion a palanquin containing all the Chinese garments and ornaments that he had been for years collecting and gave instructions for the Chinese woman to be elegantly maintained. So occupied was he with these affairs and with thinking of his new acquisition that he forgot his rendezvous at the chase until the hunt swept up to his door, Culembach calling out to him for a laggard, and the horns blowing in jolly fashion of reproach.
Culembach's sister, Hedwig Sophia, rode up and down the gravelled space where the covered waggon had rested. Karl August came out on to the winged staircase to answer her greeting; he was to marry her in six weeks' time and since Van Dollart's visit he had forgotten it; warm-coloured, yellow-haired, voluptuous, Hedwig Sophia smiled under her cockaded hat, waved her whip—had he not recalled the rendezvous of the chase? She loved him and this showed in her looks and gestures, she cared nothing for his reputation nor his wealth. She was infatuated with the man himself; she was a widow and had learnt toleration of male failings; she was very jealous but even more prudent; rather than weary her lover she had resolved to endure his infidelities.
Hastily he joined the chase, excusing himself with Van Dollart's visit—"some new fangles from the East."
"Anything for me?" smiled Hedwig Sophia.
"Everything for you," he lied agreeably. They rode fast, side by side, down the wide allée; he wanted to marry his companion but he was thinking of the Chinese woman and considering that he might delay his marriage so as to have more leisure with his new mistress...perhaps he would take her to Vesprim and enthrone her in the ice grottoes or amid the village of dwarfs—or even build her another pavilion there and a grove of silver birch trees. At the first courteous opportunity he outrode Hedwig Sophia and came up with her brother who was leading the chase through the park of beech and chestnut; he told him that Van Dollart had brought the Chinese woman safe as a pearl shut in an oyster from Chuchow to Halstadt, trust the sly, grim Puritan Dutchman, eh?
Culembach was chagrined; though a reigning prince he was not rich and the wager was high; he laughed and tried to undervalue the prize—a small, yellow, shrunken creature, he knew...such a one had been found abandoned in the Turkish camp outside Buda...Hesse Darmstadt had been infatuate with her, but for his part, he preferred to have his monstrosities in porcelain. "And, look you, Reckheim, I'll see her before I pay."
"She is beautiful," asserted Karl August, with a confidence odious to the other. "And most rare, different from any other woman you ever saw. I would not take for her twice what I paid. Chinese, not African or Turk, like the egg-shell paste of Te-Hua, where the pink is fused from gold. To-morrow evening you shall see her, she is no more than seventeen and, in her own country, a princess."
Immediately he returned from the chase Karl August, refusing the invitation of Hedwig Sophia to ride home with her, hastened to the pavilion called Bagatelle, in the Chinese garden. Lamps of porcelain and lacquer had been lit in the lattice windows; their thin, fine light made long elegant shadows from the delicate leaves of young bamboo and yellow maple; the twilight was hushed and luscious. Karl August peered through the curtains, the Chinese woman was within, she had arrayed herself in one of the robes, coral red, orange-yellow; she had made herself tea in one of his services of Wu Ts'ai or five-colour ware with ruby-backed plates, she had set a branch of pearl-colour maple in one of his bronze vases, and appeared at home and happy; her hands, moving in the wide blue satin sleeves, were like flowers drifting on water, opening and closing in a kind breeze; they were the hue of pale clover honey; where the shadow stole over her throat it was the warm tint of amber; dark gold appeared in her eyes and hair where the light burnished the black lustre; her mouth had the fresh, dewy redness of a petal plucked as it unfolds in early summer from the bud. Karl August did not enter the pavilion; the nun was seated inside the door; her habit appeared grotesque among those Eastern trifles, her face appeared old, ugly, sad, compared with the face of the Chinese woman; as Karl August left Bagatelle he noticed that a wooden crucifix had been fastened over the curved horns hung with bells, at the entrance. He began to be more uneasy, disturbed by sensations new to him; it was remarkable that he, who had committed so many lawless acts of violence, could not now commit another; it would really be easy to force away the nun; he was not, he assured himself, superstitious, and he did not believe in God—scandal could be avoided; why, then, this detestable hesitation?
He passed a disagreeable night; his mind dwelt most curiously on the Chinese woman; he believed she could give new variety to an emotion he had almost staled, she was more than beautiful, she had some magic...
When a flying post brought news from Vesprim of a revolt among the heretics, Karl August was an angry man; he declared that the Emperor's business could wait until he had finished his own and sent orders to his lieutenant to burn and slay without pause or mercy. To punish himself for his cowardice he kept away from the pavilion; but he sent an order to the nun that the Chinese woman must be sent up to the château that evening to sit beside him at his supper-table. The nun's reply was submissive, "But if she is not returned by eight o'clock I shall come to fetch her."
Karl August raged because he could not have the insolent woman removed; sulky and violent he meditated a revenge that would be the sterner for being deferred; he knew himself capable of complete cruelty; his uneasiness increased.
There were six gentlemen at the supper, companions in arms and pleasures. The windows were open on to the monstrous moon, the melody of caged nightingales, on the voices of Siennese boys singing to zithers, and on the steady, recurrent splash of a fountain that was as monotonous as a heart-beat.
The decoration of the room was Chinese. White satin on walls, and chairs with tiny figures of mandarins, a plum-coloured carpet with blue dragons petalled like chrysanthemums, a table of cinnabar lacquer the work of two generations, a hanging lamp of inlaid ivory and shell, services of egg-shell porcelain, sang-de-boeuf, Lang-Yao, and flambé or red copper glaze; some of the priceless curiosities "The Water Dog" had brought, packed among the coffee, tea, pepper and spices in her hold, to Amsterdam. An aromatic odour still clung to these delicate objects; the air was perfumed with cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and attar of roses; in contrast to this exotic elegance the six guests showed robust and hearty, with their fair, red faces, their curled, powdered hair, their bright coloured velvet and satin coats, their Paris paste and steel appointments cut to a diamond glitter.
The Chinese woman entered, carried in her palanquin; she could not stand for more than a moment on her tiny feet in the slippers stitched with sequins; she was placed carefully, as if she had been a doll, beside Aspremont Reckheim; the gentlemen all gazed eagerly at this curiosity; they were really not sure that she was alive. Her quilted outer robe of sea-green silk being removed by Karl August showed her dress of festival gold, a massed design of webs and blossoms in bullion threads, her sash of azure satin, stiffened with silver wires, her necklets of white jade, of smoked crystal, of scarlet cords with beads of rose quartz, tourmaline and chrysolite; above the smooth black billows of her hair quivered metallic flowers of silver, copper and gold, which appeared finer than nature in filaments, pistils and petals that stirred with the least movement. All of the guests had travelled and each possessed a closet of curiosities, but none of them had ever seen any rarity like this wonder.
She bowed, and then spoke.
A little cascade of meaningless sound soft, mellow as drowsy notes from the soft-plumed throat of a bird, fell from her vermilion lips; she bowed again, folded her hands into her sleeves, was silent.
They murmured surprise, admiration, envy; Culembach had his rix dollars bond ready; he slipped it along the table. Karl August pocketed it without satisfaction; he was tormented by the desire to know what the Chinese woman thought and felt, to possess her mind and soul as well as her person; never had he heard anything so tantalizing as that soft incomprehensible speech; he had never failed, one way or another with a woman before, but now he was baffled; he glowered where he should have been triumphant. And before the Lang-Yao clock struck eight he sent her away because of the intolerable nun, who would, he was sure, keep her word.
Culembach lingered after the others had gone; Karl August scowled at the continued intrusion; he wanted to go down to the pavilion which would be glittering in the moonshine...he had other treasures to give her, a bracelet of yellow jade, a bowl of alabaster so fine as to be transparent, a box of vermilion orange lacquer...perhaps, if he put these before her she would speak again in that meaningless and enchanting language.
The Margraf of Culembach began to praise the Chinese lady...he offered to buy her...
"As a dilettante?" asked Karl August.
"As a man," said Culembach.
Karl August refused to consider any offer; Culembach said that he would give more than money; his Arab-Polish horse called "La Folie," who was the most perfectly trained animal in the Empire, his pair of bleu de roi Sèvres vases which had taken three years to paint. As Karl August remained contemptuous Culembach offered his summer palace in the mountains that the other had often envied. On receiving an abrupt refusal the Margraf, a short-tempered man, purpled in the face; the two parted in dislike of each other; this was the first time that Karl August had quarrelled with the brother of Hedwig Sophia. The Margraf's offers had put the final value on the Chinese woman; she was indeed priceless; her owner could think of nothing for which he would surrender her. Yet he allowed the days to pass without disturbing her, because of the nun, because of some sacred magic which enclosed her, because of something in himself? Was he being drawn into a new unimagined world? He did not know; he became melancholy, moody, yet excited and violent; if only he could discover what the Chinese woman was thinking, if she was happy, if he could make her happy, what she was saying when she bowed and spoke sweetly, rapidly. Every day he visited her and sat, brooding, on a divan, while he watched her; the nun was always present and he had ceased to resent this; he gave the Chinese woman a little zither and she played on it thin melodies of heartbreaking sadness. The greatest pleasure of Karl August was, however, to watch her unperceived, to linger hidden among the maples and bamboos while she walked by the pond or sang at her window, or drank tea, or played with a white cat.
Culembach rode over frequently and tried to bargain for what he called this bibelot de prix. He also seemed fascinated by the Chinese woman whom, however, he had only seen once; the two men began to detest each other; the Margraf pointed out that General Aspremont Reckheim's post was in Hungary—what leave had he to linger in Salzburg, while there was a revolt in his command?
Hedwig Sophia came too frequently to Halstadt; Karl August suspected her brother of making trouble; the lady longed too often to be taken to the pavilion, the pagoda, and on excuse or refusal became too sweetly submissive. She knew, of course, from her brother, about the Chinese woman and she was sick with terror lest she should lose her lover; she was afraid of his abstracted air, his gloomy indifference to her caresses, his dark, sullen face; she wished to marry him and go to Hungary to quell the rebellion, to please him she would have witnessed the slaughter of hundreds of heretics, but Karl August suspended all his affairs.
He gradually made a confidante of the nun; she was of his own world and intelligent; she appeared to like him, she was at least very tolerant; he endeavoured to discover from her every scrap of information about the Chinese woman...her mind, her nature, her habits, what she believed, or wished, or feared...
The nun knew very little; she could not, save for a word or two, understand her companion's speech, but she always declared that she was very home-sick; at night she would weep and pray to a little crystal image which to Aspremont Reckheim was a toy, but to her a god.
Always the nun ended:
"You must assuredly send her home, monseigneur, it is your only chance to palliate a great wrong. No doubt you acted more in wantonness than malice, but now you understand that you have not bought a carving or a jewel, but a human creature."
"Give me some credit," Karl August would reply bitterly, "that I have not molested her."
The nun had a smile for that.
"You cannot. You do not dare."
The haughty, violent man raged. He stared at himself in many mirrors; he had always disliked his person, inherited from a defeated people he had betrayed; no powder could efface that black hair, no art alter those straight fine features, no imperial uniform make him appear of the conquering race. A Magyar, one with those he crushed and slew...he had burnt a church once with a hundred worshippers within, and watched while his troopers thrust the wretches back into the flames...every face shrieking to death had been like his face...detestable, and giving him the air of a renegade. He passionately wished he was like Culembach, the dominant Northern stock...who did he appear to the Chinese woman?
She remained unchanged; patiently she waited through the luscious autumn days. The lilies on the pond withered, the bamboos and maples shed their leaves, the sunshine took a mellower tinge; in meek resignation the Chinese woman waited; only her songs became more plaintive, her music the melody of an exile, and her slanting eyes glittered with tears as she prayed to her crystal god.
"Send her home before the winter," said the nun.
"Sell her to me," insisted Culembach.
"Marry me," implored Hedwig Sophia.
While the Emperor's commands came stern from Vienna:
"Go immediately to Hungary."
Aspremont Reckheim did none of these things. He was entirely, and, for the first time in his life, occupied with his own soul; he ascended to stormy heights and grovelled in murky depths; all his possessions became earthly baubles, the wind in the bare trees at night was of peculiar importance; the sight of the moon touched him to nothingness, and the vapourous sunshine was bitter-sweet to agony; he was in full pursuit of something flying beyond his reach, a chase that would snatch him off the globe into darkness, for what he sought was hidden surely beyond the farthest star.
Culembach one evening penetrated the Chinese garden; he only saw all the lattices of the pavilion flicked down and heard the mournful note of a zither; but Karl August posted a guard of his own regiment round the Oriental pleasance.
With the waning of October came the news of the sacking of his château at Vesprim; the rebels had broken into his costly grounds, smashed the pyramid, lit bonfires in the grottos, kicked to pieces the ice caves, set free the dwarfs in the village. These tiny monsters had frolicked up to the mansion and, mad with liberty, destroyed all they could discover, then drunk themselves to death amid shards of porcelain, tatters of silk and fragments of gilt wood. The rabble had cracked the cedar-wood chapel as if it had been a nut; angels, saints and crucifixes were tumbled out to be trampled into the parterres of the coronary garden. At night the flames of Vesprim appeared to smite the moon; blood, bones, and the value of a million rix dollars were consumed.
Close on this news Hedwig Sophia rode to Halstadt, her mood beyond subterfuge or prudence.
"Why do you linger? See what has befallen. There was no such palace save at Kassel."
"I can build another," he replied sternly, "if I am not too old for playthings."
Golden, rosy, flushed, distracted with emotion, Hedwig Sophia passionately replied:
"Playthings? You think of nothing else. You are a fool for this Chinese woman."
"You know of her, then?"
"Oh, am I imbecile? Theodor, also, is obsessed by her—what is it? I have suffered it long enough...Do you not think of me at all? Do you not think of your duty? You will be ruined, disgraced, if you do not go to Hungary."
Striking her hand with her riding whip Hedwig Sophia trembled in the rich firelight.
"For a Chinese woman!" she cried.
"She is not my mistress," he said dryly. "I cannot even speak to her. I have never touched her."
Amazed and frightened, Hedwig Sophia asked: "Why?"
"I do not know."
"But you keep her there, hidden at Bagatelle? Theodor heard her sing."
"He'll not again. Yes, I keep her there, immaculate. She is like nothing you could imagine, Hedwig. I cannot speak of it."
"But you love me." Hedwig Sophia was hurried into open avowal of her pain. "This is a whim, it can, it must be dispelled. We will go together to Hungary and regain what you have lost."
"I have lost nothing," mused Karl August.
"You have lost me," retorted the passionate woman, "and I was something to you once."
Very little; how women overestimated themselves! He could not tell her that, nor how many fair women, soft, easy, there were in the world, very ready to the hand of a man like himself. Her rank prevented Hedwig Sophia from knowing how ordinary she was; she pleaded with him hopelessly; she really believed the man bewitched, and though she loved him no less for that she endeavoured to sting him with taunts.
"How can you dally here? You must be a scorn at Vienna—nothing will save you if you do not go at once—I could not marry an idler—or, is it a coward?"
"Tell your brother to come and ask that," he suggested, thinking he would relish an opportunity to quarrel violently with Culembach.
"I will, oh, I will!"
She flung away; he thought he could hear her angry sobbing long after she had gone; he was indifferent to her suffering, she was pampered, selfish, cruel, as he had been.
The posts from Buda and an Express from Vesprim waited in his antechambers while he was closeted with the nun; he had sent for her from the pavilion, which he had not visited for several days; a faint blue haze lay over the park; the nun warmed cold fingers at the frost-clear fire.
General Aspremont Reckheim stood with his hands clasped behind him; he wore a careless civilian dress and had neglected to pomade the black locks that he detested.
The nun smiled at him pleasantly; her face was peaked and thin between the folds of linen; she stooped slightly, some small dead leaves clung to the hem of her grey robe.
"You have held out against me a long time," he said.
The nun continued to smile.
"I love the Chinese woman," said Karl August.
"Then you will send her home, of course?"
"You do not love her, Monseigneur."
"It is terrible how I love her—I cannot endure to see her because my thoughts of her torment me so. I meant the affair for a jest, for a caprice, to win a wager and a little mistress for a while. I have been horribly ensnared."
The nun considered him with pity.
"Yes, that is how it happens. One does lightly a wicked deed and it closes on one's soul like a vice."
"I have done worse things," he replied, "and never heeded them."
"Perhaps this is the punishment for them all, Monseigneur."
"It is enough," he sighed. "She is so hemmed in that I cannot approach her...hedged about—what with?"
"I have overcome that before."
"You have laid a spell round her." He tried to smile. "You have conquered. I will marry her."
The nun shook her head.
"She is not a Christian."
"I will have her baptized; I will give her my mother's name."
"She would not understand. She does not care for you. She only longs for her home. If you keep her she will die."
"I would not let her die. I can make women happy and I love her so much—"
"Then, certainly you will return her to Chuchow. Love has only one way, Monseigneur, it serves, it does not think of self; either," added the nun, "you use a word you do not understand, or you know what I mean."
Karl August looked away.
"What should I do when she was gone?"
"Take up your duty. Return to Hungary and endeavour to obtain justice and mercy for the rebels and heretics your kinspeople."
"It is too difficult. I cannot part with her and I'll not tolerate them. You are defeated."
"Not I, but you, General Reckheim."
He dismissed her; with a sweep of his wide cuff and heavy ruffles he knocked over all the stupid trifles on his bureau, splinters of egg-shell porcelain scattered on the carpet; he stamped on them while the posts waited.
For three days he was shut in his rooms; at nights the frosts fell and the dawns were slow and heavy; a despatch from the Emperor awaited his pleasure; another week's delay and he would be superseded in his command; Culembach wrote violently demanding explanation, satisfaction for an insulted sister; all this was chaff in the wind to Aspremont Reckheim. He went down through the still cold, the bare park to the withered winter-bitten Chinese garden where the pavilion showed stark amid the desolation of the trees; the brilliant tiles were rimed with frost which had melted in drops of moisture on the bells above the horned gate, there was no sound of zither or voice.
"How has this come on me who was so sure of myself? I, who did not know of the unattainable, to be overcome by desire I I, who was always resolute, to be thus baffled I I shall never know her heart or her mind, or what she said in her lovely language; she will never lead me into the world where she moves."
He did not cross the confines of her domain, but, returning to the château, sent a letter to the nun:
Take the Chinese woman back, command my means. I leave for Buda.
And he thought: "When they are gone I will have the Chinese gardens, the pavilion and the pagoda demolished—and never again will I trade with Van Dollart."
General Aspremont Reckheim appeared in the full accoutrements that he had so long put aside, and rode at the head of the troop of horse he was leading to the Imperial headquarters near the ruins of Vesprim. The wan day had wasted to the bleached grey of twilight; the dark soldier saw nothing but a mist-bound horizon; his companions rode apart, awed by his grim air of gloom; he had not reached the limits of the estate before he was overtaken by a Heyduck with a bruised face, urging an exhausted horse; his panted news, gasped out as his master drew rein, was brief.
"The Margraf has carried off the Chinese woman."
This was to Karl August as if the scornful hand of God had, out of the menacing sky, struck him one blow...and sufficient.
"They surprised us, five hundred men—the Princess Hedwig Sophia was there—the instant, sir, you had departed."
Karl August turned back at the gallop; by using three relays he arrived at Culembach's château by nightfall.
No one thwarted his entrance; he believed that some catastrophe beyond violence had occurred; he had outridden his company and entered the house alone; room after room was empty and quiet; he would not call her because he did not know her name; in a high ornate chamber he found the nun, very weary, and praying; she saw his face and said:
"You must not kill them. They have been very gentle. Besides, it was too late. She would never have reached home; she was dying."
With her old, tired gait she preceded him to the next room.
The Chinese woman was on a sofa; Culembach and Hedwig gazed at her in silence, holding hands for company in their guilt; Karl August did not see them or their misery; he knelt beside the sofa and said words he had never said before, save falsely.
"Forgive me, for God's sake, forgive me!"
The Chinese woman sat up and looked at him; she bowed, she spoke directly to him, a low murmur of delicate sound. He was sure that she spoke only to him not to the nun; never would he know what she said; she could not speak for long, for she was occupied with the matter of dying. She bowed again and turned to her repose; she seemed to fold herself together, like a flower, furled petal by petal round a dead heart.
Never would his pursuit overtake her, never would she teach him her speech, nor admit him to that world which he now knew of and must ever weary after; never could she relieve his desolation.
Dead, she appeared no more than a toy, Bagatelle, an Eastern puppet on the coquettish sofa. Karl August looked inwards and found detestable company; himself grinning in loneliness.
With an accompaniment for trumpets set for the Imperial
Army of the Czar of All the Russias under Prince Zadikov at the Château
Brockenstein. [BOHEMIA, 18th Century.]
Miss Pettigrew was familiar with Europe and Europe was tolerably familiar with Miss Pettigrew; she had permitted herself every indulgence save an indiscretion; those who knew most about her, applauded her the most warmly—for tact, elegance and an inflexible courage, concealed behind the most becoming air of timidity; those who knew least about her, admired her for a great lady whose dignity was never flecked with blame; all who knew anything of her, conceded her greater gifts than her too celebrated beauty; she never forgot any circumstance, however trifling, and she never lost her composure in any event, however disturbing. She was extremely well-bred and so finely trained that she never allowed any of her lovers to discover that she was an intelligent woman; she knew, exquisitely well, how to give an enchanting air of caprice to the most adroitly conceived plan, how to beggar a man negligently as if she had no idea of the value of money, and how to confer her favours with an air of sweet, overwhelmed reluctance, as if she succumbed for the first and last time; she had a high sense of honour, but this, masked behind the laughing grimace of folly, was a masculine code; that of her own sex, from her early years, she had found trivial and inconvenient. Her secret regret was that she had never met a man quite worthy of her talents; no one with that right mingling of honour and humour, grace and spirit, to deal with her exactly as she was, no more and no less than himself.
Miss Pettigrew had been visiting the Electoral Court of Dresden and had found it rather dull; the most interesting portion of the population was at the war; Miss Pettigrew discovered the time was long between the opening of the campaigns and the closing, when the troops came into winter quarters and made the cities lively. With unperturbed good spirits, however, she retired with the Ursins Trainel to their château of Brockenstein between the darkness of the Bohemian forests and the brightness of the river Moldau. Like thunder on a midsummer day the distant bolts of war rattled in the background of a fête champêtre; Ursins Trainel was an old man, his wife timid, the others of the household were servants; rumours began to deaden the air with panic, refugees pressed against the haughty scrolls of the iron gates of the Park, crept to sleep in the wide allées, and begged for bread at the doors of the château; refugees from Silesia...
Prince Zadikov, the commander of the troops of the Czar of All the Russias, putting under his heel a rebellious Poland, striking a rebellious Silesia, was advancing to face the Circle of Franconia in Munich; with every flash of news that came, fear grew more horrible at Brockenstein; the Ursins Trainel had no interest in the tedious war, but they were technically enemies of Russia...if Zadikov should chance to march that way...no one knew his objective...if it was Munich, then Brockenstein lay directly in his path; M. d'Ursins Trainel was faced with the alternative of abandoning his property, his peasants, his dignity, or risking a visit from Zadikov.
This general had the worst of reputations; cruel, unscrupulous, implacable, extravagant..."a Tartar, in one word," said M. d'Ursins Trainel, sitting gloomily in his great shadowed salon and drinking tea from a cup of powder blue; the small agitated company began to decry Zadikov; there was no crime they did not charge to his account, no vice with which he was not familiar.
Miss Pettigrew sat at a desk slightly apart; her wardrobe was a little depleted; she was making a list for her next visit to Paris: a roll of watered bronze silk for a cloak, a pair of green velvet slippers, a garland of jasmine flowers in pearls...She looked up to listen to what they were exclaiming, in terror and rage, of Zadikov.
"They say he plays the harpsichord exquisitely," she remarked, "I should like to hear him."
"The man is—beyond our discussion," declared M. d'Ursins Trainel coldly, "there is nothing detestable that he has not done—"
"I hear he has good manners," said Miss Pettigrew, reflectively. "I should like to see him."
"You may have the opportunity," replied one of the ladies drily, "and then you would repent your wish—though you have always been slightly enamoured of the Devil—"
"He is, at least, grand seigneur," remarked Miss Pettigrew, "while le bon Dieu—eh, a pity that the Almighty never understood good breeding."
"I fear you have no soul, Miss Pettigrew, possibly no heart," sighed Madame d'Ursins Trainel, "you put virtue at a discount."
"Because it has done so much harm," smiled Miss Pettigrew, "encouraged ill manners, muddy complexions and sour speeches...virtue, eh? What is it but an invention of those who have nothing else to boast of?"
While they conversed there came further news of Zadikov—the worst; he was marching straight on Brockenstein with his Russian and Imperial troops (for the campaign, at least, the Emperor leagued with the Czar), his Cossacks, Uhlans, Black Cuirassiers...a trail of fire, blood and ruin across Silesia as across Poland; he had crossed the Vistula on pontoons, he would soon be crossing the Moldau.
"He grows flowers," said Miss Pettigrew, "he will be interested in your glasshouses, Monsieur."
She added to her list: "blue velvet corsets cut very low, saffron silk garters with knots of coral beads..."
The Château was to be abandoned, every one must fly as best they could, back into Bavaria, to Munich or Nuremburg; every coach, horse and waggon was brought out of the stables; the men looked up all guns, powder, swords, knives; the women ran from room to room, snatching up and packing ornaments of gold and silver, of fine porcelain and alabaster.
Miss Pettigrew disliked confusion and agitation. She retired to her chamber; it was a delightful day in September and from her high window she looked on a voluptuous prospect of shimmering gold—wood, mountain, river, azure horizon...it would be an evening, a night, such as many vaguely love but few know how to enjoy...but Miss Pettigrew was an expert in such delicacies of delight; she leant from the window and allowed the afternoon breeze that floated from the upper plumes of the airy trees to disturb her locks of dark English gold...when her hostess hastened in on her she found her thus with her possessions untouched.
"Are you not packed, Miss Pettigrew? Are you not ready? There is no time, not a moment! Everyone is departing...most are gone."
"Nay, dear Madame, do not be alarmed. I have never heard of women of our position being inconvenienced."
"We deal with Zadikov," Madame d'Ursins Trainel spoke in despair. "He sent a detachment of Cossacks this morning to demand the surrender of Budweis, our nearest town...we have just heard—they refused."
"Fools!" remarked Miss Pettigrew.
"Fools indeed I The town is unfortified...it will fall in half an hour...the Cossacks returned to Zadikov with the threat to pillage the entire country...he will make his headquarters here...Eh, Mon Dieu! come at once."
"I have seen a pillaged town," said the English lady thoughtfully. "I remember it very well—those crazy wretches in Budweis—children, too, and old people...I might have had daughters myself."
Madame d'Ursins Trainel did not listen to this, she was weeping.
"The Burgomaster is here, he has repented his obstinacy and is imploring us to help him; we can do nothing but advise the inhabitants of Budweis to fly with us—"
"Such as have horses or carts," smiled Miss Pettigrew, "I believe the Russians are in excellent condition—how long before they overtook this poor rabble?"
"They must take their fortune!" cried Madame d'Ursins Trainel, distracted. "Do you come and not waste your time."
"I will follow you," replied Miss Pettigrew, to be rid of her. The lady fled, and, in the hurry of her mischances, forgot her foreign guest; Miss Pettigrew called her maid; the girl had gone. Miss Pettigrew herself took from the wardrobe a shift of Indian mull worked with a million white flowers, transparent as a breath of vapour, and a holster pistol inlaid with ivory which had belonged to her father, slain at Philipsbourg; she placed both on her bed and went downstairs; in a short space of time the tumult had stilled; everyone had left the château. From a window on the stairway Miss Pettigrew could see the procession of coaches, of carts, of horses, winding along the high road towards Bavaria; their laborious overladen progress gave them a depressed and defeated air; not every one had left the château. In the salon where lately they had been drinking tea sat the Burgomaster of Budweis—a man overwhelmed by disaster; but he had had the fortitude not to follow the others; he had remained to face the consequences of his own folly; few, thought Miss Pettigrew, can do more.
He rose, the stout elderly man, amazed at the appearance of a lady in the château he had believed so swiftly deserted, stood stammering, for an explanation?
"There is none," Miss Pettigrew reassured him. "I dislike hurried journeys—they have overlooked my absence, no one is of importance in a panic. You, sir, retire to Budweis—?"
"You remain here—alone?"
"My fancies make a crowded company. Why were you so imprudent as to refuse to surrender the town?"
"I was badly advised...the burghers were afraid of their property..."
"And now must be afraid for their lives."
"Alas! if I could die for all—"
"You cannot. Budweis will be sacked to-morrow, unless—"
"Unless?" he demanded, eager at the sparkle of hope in her words.
"Prince Zadikov should prove merciful."
The Burgomaster began sorrowfully to relate some of the cruel stories current about the Russian; Miss Pettigrew interrupted:
"Eh, we all have our legends! Perhaps I can save Budweis."
"You! Pardon me, but you! You remain here...?"
"To meet this Tartar, this monster, this dragon...Compose yourself, sir, and return to Budweis to tell your citizens to hope."
"Pardon me again, Madame, but what do you know of Zadikov?"
"That he is an expert in music—in flowers—we shall have points of contact—the décor, too, the evening, how exquisite! The man must have some sensibility."
The Burgomaster did not quite understand what the lady meant, but he gathered courage from her beauty, her resolute air, her serenity.
"It is a tradition of Budweis," he faltered, "that in the ancient days it was saved from a ravening beast by a virgin martyr—"
Miss Pettigrew kept a smile from her eyes.
"I hope Prince Zadikov will be no more a ravening beast than I am a...a martyr," she replied gravely, not to offend the old man's simplicity. "Now, sir, return to Budweis."
"Shall I not send you some women...at least?"
"Mon Dieu!" murmured Miss Pettigrew, with recollection of some of the good wives of Budweis, "tell them to keep within their walls."
She got rid of him, saw him riding away amazed on his mule, and returned to the emptiness of the château...a virgin martyr She laughed, not without irony and her face became serious; she had experienced so much, the rise and break of passion, the ebb and flow of emotion, the smooth conveniency of compromise, the surge of rebellion, the look of disillusion in her own mirrored eyes the moment before satiety when disgust must be strangled at birth, the moment before consummation when some gorgeous hope must be foregone—she had learnt so much, balance, humour, grace, tolerance, to overlay the tedious years with rich trifles, to enjoy every possible beauty and delight, to keep her dignity immaculate. She had evolved a philosophy and morality in one: miss no pleasure, weary no one and allow no one to weary you, be an epicure in your indulgences...never confess and never repent...flee boredom as the most deadly of the sins...She had not always had as pleasant a background as this, so many clothes in her trunks, so much money in her pockets...she had known her reverses, like Zadikov...she, like him, had been sometimes in retreat, and would be again in full flight one day, before the enemy tracing wrinkles in her face and fading the dark amber of her hair...but, to-day—"Perhaps," said Miss Pettigrew, "we can both be victorious."
She was not alone in the chateau; a negress waited in the corridor, seated on a stool between two gilt model cannon and caressing a silver deerhound; the lady remembered her for doing her a kindness, when Madame d'Ursins Trainel had chided her for laziness; the creature was faithful, then...She looked up at Miss Pettigrew with tears in her handsome eyes and caught the end of her scarf, imploring to be permitted to stay; she, of all of them, had noticed that the English woman had remained in the chateau.
"Poor Corinne," said Miss Pettigrew, "certainly you may stay—there is nothing to be afraid of—the dog, too?"
Yes, the dog was loyal to the negress; he had refused to leave her; they looked charming, the lady thought—Corinne, strong and graceful, her bronze body wrapped in a glittering scarlet tissue, an agraffe of yellow plumes bound to her black curls, the hound fine and light as a curling feather, pale as a moonbeam.
Miss Pettigrew reflected.
"The salon shows signs of disorder, see to that, Corinne; we must be clever and leave nothing to chance. Then you will see what they have left in the house and prepare some supper—set it out, wine and fruit, as elegantly as possible, set it out in the salon."
The negress sprang up, eager and delighted at being used; Miss Pettigrew directed her to arrange the great room that opened so nobly on the terraces and the steps; here a chair overturned, there a vase toppled down, a tapestry awry, a couch upset, a screen fallen, all soon deftly arranged, and the beautiful harpsichord painted with garlands of tender amorini and stately laurels opened, and set in place; fresh candles put in the lustres and in the brackets. Before they had completed these adjustments the patrols of Zadikov were entering the park, frightening the deer, disturbing the cool silence of the long glades; the sun had disappeared behind the high boughs of the chestnuts and elms and filled the air with the vaporous glow of unearthly gold. Miss Pettigrew glanced at herself in the mirror behind the harpsichord; she had made no alteration in her attire, she appeared as an English gentlewoman, in grey sarcenet with slim ruffles, her hair but slightly powdered, her face as it had smiled from the canvas by Mr. Gainsborough when he had painted her but last year.
The patrols had reported the château deserted; Zadikov and his staff rode negligently through the park; Zadikov, whose life had been all action, admired the contrast of this fine repose, the graceful vistas, the flying deer, the lofty, whispering trees, the fastidious château, elegant behind the wide terraces and shallow steps, with the fountain in front where a nereid in marble blew up long jets of water into the azure air. Zadikov and his officers dismounted. The long windows beyond the terrace stood open as if to receive them; the Russians ascended the steps, slowly, carelessly, jaded after the long march. Miss Pettigrew came to the window and looked at them; she was slightly shortsighted and narrowed her eyes in an effort to discover which was Zadikov. Perceiving her, the Russians stopped and spoke quickly, one to another; she guessed what they said—"A trap!" She knew that Zadikov lived under the constant menace of assassination; she came out on to the terrace, to the head of the steps, and one man detached himself from the hesitant group and came straight up to meet her—Zadikov—she knew him better by that action than by his cords and laces, his orders and sashes.
"Prince Zadikov," she said, in French, "I regret that I can only offer you a poor entertainment, such as it is, you are welcome."
He answered in French as correct as her own.
"Whatever it is, I am grateful, Madame."
His officers were crowding up behind him, as if to threaten and protect; Miss Pettigrew smiled.
"I regret, Monseigneur, that I cannot receive your friends—I am inconvenienced by lack of service, of provisions—I am alone in the château."
"You are alone?" he repeated.
"No, I forgot—there is a negress and a dog—the only creatures not afraid of you, Prince Zadikov; will you enter?"
He looked at her steadily; he was as well-trained in quick scrutiny as she; he did not pause but leisurely followed her across the terrace, telling his officers to wait for him.
"You are French, Madame?"
"Ah—and alone?—here? You knew I was coming..."
"Certainly. And your reputation. I wanted to receive you."
"Seldom have I had a prettier compliment." He entered the great salon, then filled with golden dusk, following her.
She saw his glance flicker to the large gilt screen behind the supper table; she had not thought of that, nor of the attempts on his life—it would be very natural that he should take this for a trap; she could see the angry suspicious faces of his officers as they, despite his orders, crept closer to the open windows.
"Will you believe that I am alone here?" she asked courteously. "Will you accept my company this evening? I know nothing of politics, little of war—your Highness will risk nothing but—boredom!"
"I am never bored," said Zadikov; he moved so that he stood with his back to the screen; had there been anyone behind it, he could have been killed instantly.
Brave! thought Miss Pettigrew; her blue eyes kindled into a flashing look that gave a radiant lustre to her charming face; she negligently moved the screen, revealing the emptiness of the room.
"Your officers are still alarmed for you, Prince Zadikov; will you tell them to find their quarters elsewhere—there are the farms, the outbuildings, other houses between here and Budweis."
"You command very well," smiled Zadikov, "and you may command my leisure—the day is over." He went to the window and spoke to the officers; Miss Pettigrew saw them reluctantly depart; she smiled to think that they should be afraid of her who was so utterly in their power—an army surrounding her complete helplessness.
She asked her guest to be seated; she took from him his hat with the stiff black cockade, the light cloak covered with autumn dust. She laughed quietly to see how perfectly he controlled what must be a baffled amazement, with what audacious readiness he accepted this improbable adventure; some of the tales she had heard of him ran through her mind; she studied her monster, her Tartar, her dragon, her ruthless devouring tyrant. The appearance of Gregory Zadikov gave the lie to these ferocious epithets; he had a charming, slightly melancholy countenance, devoid of any definite expression, a person more elegant than powerful, a manner of instinctive magnificence well curbed by careful good breeding; those who described him as a bearded Muscovite, or a yellow flat-faced Eastern, were grotesquely wrong; and they forgot what Miss Pettigrew had always remembered, that he had been educated at Versailles. He was set off with the most extravagant of military bearing; his hair was as exactly rolled and pomaded as if he had just left the barber's hands; Miss Pettigrew had seen many a gentleman at St. James's less precisely ordered than Zadikov after his march; nor was there any offence in the reserved scrutiny he gave her; she had read a coarser appraisal of her charms in the eyes of men of a better reputation.
"Why did you want to know me?" he asked, carelessly on his guard.
"I hear you play the harpsichord divinely," smiled Miss Pettigrew, "I should like to hear you."
"Who told you that?" he asked. He had faintly coloured, and amused, she wondered who had last brought the blood to his serene face.
"You grow flowers also, there is one here in the glass-houses I should like to show you—Corona Imperialis, rare, Monseigneur, if not unique."
Zadikov was pulling off his fringed gloves. When Corinne opened the door behind him he did not look round; Miss Pettigrew noted that; he had not had the château searched; did he trust her, or was he outrageously foolhardy? She hoped the latter; she had always wanted to meet a man worthy of her utmost art. Corinne lit the candles, soft blooms of mellow light in the tender dusk; the twilight beyond the windows was a hyacinth azure, the sky above the trees of an infinite depth of voluptuous purple. Corinne had arranged the supper exquisitely—a melon in a silver basket, Bon Chrétien pears on a jade green dish, Venetian glasses with ruby stems, such cold meats and pasties as she had found in Madame d'Ursins Trainel's larder, fastidiously set out, wine in long tawny gleaming bottles...
"Have you enjoyed your life, Monseigneur?"
"Immensely; and you, Madame?"
"I also immensely; an evening like this—lovely, is it not?"
Zadikov looked at her earnestly.
"You have a fine taste—a delicate appreciation—of beauty, Prince Zadikov?"
"No one has denied me that quality."
"I am not concerned with what others you have—only with that. You are fastidious in your choice, and neither scruples nor fears would prevent you taking your choice once you had made it?"
"You read me exactly," he replied; he had lost his artificial look of composure, and she saw that his eager dark face was beautiful.
"And will read you no further, so much knowledge will serve our brief acquaintance."
"Who are you?"
"Mary Pettigrew, of Waygood Boys, Somerset—but it is a long while since I was there. Will you take your supper, Prince Zadikov?"
"I cannot," he said, "read you as you do me; no, not even that little way—"
She poured his wine.
"You are married, Monseigneur?"
"Inevitably and inconveniently, Madame."
"My condolences—for the lady."
"You would not be in her place?" he smiled. "No, I do not see you there—you have never married for you are not a woman—you are an enchantment," he ended with sudden gravity.
"Take me as that and we shall do very well."
"How can I take you as anything else? One must call in magic to explain—an unprecedented situation."
He was close to her now, the other side of the small table, and her level look considered him more keenly; was there not, after all, something dangerous in that face?—the cheek-bones too high, the lips too full, the eyes too dark—a savage, perhaps, beneath the brilliant veneer.
"You sack Budweis to-morrow?"
"Yes. Need we talk of it?"
"I ask you to spare the town."
She saw disappointment darken in his glance, as if he had found the solution of her mystery, and found it commonplace.
"That, then!" he answered, not without an inflection of contempt, "the mouthpiece of those whining burghers—what you ask is impossible. I have heard of Deliliah and Judith—I am not to be wrought on, even by an enchantress."
"I do not try to seduce you," smiled Miss Pettigrew. "Never have I taken less trouble with any man—I did not even change my gown. I have put greater pains into pleasing—those less powerful—"
Her eyes became thoughtful; she was recalling a night in Venice, a rendezvous beneath the Colleoni statue, when she had worn a cavalier's attire—severe, trim, gaitered, buttoned from toe to chin—but, afterwards, in the locked chamber of the Capo del Moro she had worn nothing save a cloud of gauze and diamond garters...Zadikov saw that reflective look, as if she had forgotten him, and he was piqued.
"And yet you make a monstrous request. What is Budweis to you?"
"Nothing. I am a stranger here. I have scarcely seen the place. I ask you not to sack Budweis."
"I have promised my soldiers the plunder. That is sufficient."
"Your word is so inviolable? What is one town more or less to you, Monseigneur?"
"Exactly the same as one lover more or less to you, Madame."
"A trifle, then. And you can let Budweis go?"
"No," smiled Zadikov.
"No?" Miss Pettigrew raised her fine eyebrows. She leant back in her chair, her hands folded languidly in her lap; twilight and candlelight fluttered over her in mellow shade and glow, on all her hues of pearl and amber and rose; she looked past Zadikov at the warmth of the night beyond the open window where troops, trees and heavens were all hidden in one trembling depth of blue, the deep blue of hyacinth, of dying summer, of her own eyes—a little weary, a little veiled by the memory of tears.
Zadikov got to his feet; Miss Pettigrew did not stir; gentle and tranquil she gazed into the night.
"What would you give me if I spared Budweis?"
"Why did I ask? You could give me nothing I could not take—"
She detected arrogance and impatience in his tone; he had revealed exasperation and given her an advantage she serenely used.
"I never thought to hear a man of quality speak so crudely! I believed you were more subtle. Do you think I stayed here to save Budweis? I wanted to meet you. Do not disappoint me."
"I regret I spoke so—falsely. I know you could give me what no cost or menace could buy—I am not so barbarous—forgive me."
"I see you will not disappoint me. And when I said 'nothing' I was wrong. If you will spare Budweis I will give you the new lily, Corona Triumphalis, Corona Imperialis, which grows very well in the glasshouses here."
"A town for a flower!" smiled Zadikov. "It is true that I am an ardent collector—but, no."
Miss Pettigrew pressed him no more; she went to the harpsichord and set out a sheet of music, and lit the candles either side; the quivering reflections gleamed on the wreaths of amorini, of laurels. "Will you play for me?" smiled Miss Pettigrew—"it is a lovely night; do you not sometimes consider how soon they pass—nights such as this, so warm, so still, the sweeter the dream the briefer—and, who knows if, in the last sleep, we dream at all?"
"I've thought of that," replied Zadikov unsteadily, "is it that which torments us?"
"We miss so much," said Miss Pettigrew. "A hundred years hence we shall be ghosts in an old story—no one will care if Budweis was sacked or no—this music will be out of tune and my face fading on a canvas—'Ah, giovenezza, come sei Bella!'—Do you know that melody? How many women have you loved, Prince Zadikov? And if the sum of them all were here to-night would you not find these few hours worth one cruelty foregone?"
Her voice was full of caresses, of tenderness, of invitation, but when he approached her she looked at him with irony.
"Corinne has prepared the apartments of M. d'Ursins Trainel for you, Monseigneur—do you wish for your friends, your secretaries, your valets—you have work to do to-night?"
"The day is over, and with it those affairs of the day."
"You are well-guarded, eh?" smiled Miss Pettigrew. "How many sentries about the chateau? How many soldiers encamped in the park?"
"You, too, have your defences," he answered. "I think I have never met a woman so well protected."
"You can hardly have met a woman more alone, Monseigneur. I move solitary in all my designs."
"Yet you are unapproachable," he sat down by the harpsichord; he was weary, clouded by melancholy. She had roused (he knew not how) old torments that he usually lulled by swift action; the nostalgia for the unattainable, the secret, surprised regret (never confessed) that success, power, glory, were not in achievement what they had seemed in anticipation; the gloom and sadness latent in his blood stirred an intolerable pain; he grinned as if tortured physically, and asked her what she thought of while she pondered by the mute music?
"Of our deaths. If you die first I shall hear of it—the battle, eh?"
"Please God," Zadikov crossed himself.
"But, perhaps, an assassin, an illness, possibly the scaffold, Monseigneur—at least pomp, high above the crowd—clamour and amaze, But if I die first you will hear nothing—it will be obscurely one night when the candles are put out for the last time, when the wreaths and garlands are withered, to be no more renewed, when the silks are folded away and the gems set aside for another woman's pleasure...Play to me, Prince Zadikov, and give me another memory."
"Of what?" asked Zadikov sombrely; he was deeply troubled. Life had never been a moral problem to him, nor women anything but a simple matter; but this woman had roused in him that lust for the impossible, the intangible, the unearthly, that had sunk him to embittering excesses and raised him to maddening ecstasies...
"Of an illusion of happiness," breathed Miss Pettigrew, "what more can anyone give another?"
He played and sang; first from the Operas, "Armide," "Alexandre," then the wild melancholy songs of Russia, in his despised native tongue—songs of snow, of black rivers, of dark pines like metal against a rigid sky, of great bears and packs of wolves and sledge bells, and passionate bridals in gaunt castles with one lit window gleaming on to the lonely storm, quenched suddenly by a trembling hand...to Zadikov these things were in the music.
Miss Pettigrew thought of England; an autumn morning, the first falling leaves on the trim swept path before the manor door, a bright chestnut horse waiting at the gate, a happy child lifted into the saddle—herself...the pang of joy...the sense of all life before her...a golden secret of unutterable delight...She sighed her thoughts back to the present and looked at the man playing his sombre melodies.
His face had changed; it was flushed, heavier, darker, had lost that careful look of formality, of authority. She could now believe that those wide lips could snarl...the full nostrils were slightly distended, his too heavy brows met in a frown; it was the front of an animal, noble but savage; but Miss Pettigrew reflected that the countenance of an animal—a bull, a lion—had as much of the godlike as the countenance of humanity.
Zadikov appeared to sense that she spied on his soul and recovered himself with admirable composure. He looked at her with eyes slightly bloodshot and only a negative expression; Miss Pettigrew applauded the performance of something difficult, the recovery from the music, not the music itself. Her light delicacy of touch saved him from the regret of having revealed too much; she made no comment on his music; she told him the story of the Burgomaster of Budweis and the Virgin Martyr, and they laughed together without self-consciousness. Zadikov appeared quite amiable when he laughed. From the park came the appeal of drum and trumpet; the companions of Zadikov were becoming as exasperated as the companions of Ulysses when he visited Circe.
Corinne came and removed the supper appointments; as she passed beside Miss Pettigrew, her gleaming darkness, her scarlet tissue, her hard outlines made the Englishwoman appear faint, vague, frail as the ashes of a roseleaf. Corinne left them, moving the candles so that they were drowned in shadows.
Miss Pettigrew waited; she believed that he would know exactly what to do; he came towards her with no more of parade than was allowable, and asked if he should go?
"When you have promised to spare Budweis," said Miss Pettigrew. "Promise? Nay, I believe you think little of that—you shall sign orders that the town be left—the château, too, the park, I'll not have it touched—then you may go, Prince Zadikov."
"All this because you have a lovely face?"
She looked at him out of the shadows, impalpable, tantalizing as those most daring, most unrealizable desires that tormented him even in the moment of his keenest triumph.
"Those whom I love, those who hold me, do not know if my face be lovely or not—do not care if I am ugly or beautiful—"
He could have caught hold of her with a movement that seemed to be of destruction, but Miss Pettigrew stayed him by adding:
"Those whom I love—he who takes me against my will enbraces disgust and death."
"Come with me," said Zadikov hotly, "I will spare every town I take—you shall have a court in Munich—"
"I have always avoided such obvious triumphs—you cannot prolong dreams into the light of day—nor do I bargain, Prince Zadikov," she laughed, amused. "Are you used to buy your mistresses at so cheap a rate? Budweis for Mary Pettigrew—nay, every town you take! Match me against Rome, Vienna, Paris—and still bid too low!"
"You have a high pride," he said, but not in mockery, rather in admiration of an emotion that matched his own emotions, that so often seemed too vast to know any possible satisfaction.
"But my worth outstrips it—now, give me Budweis, nor keep me, Monseigneur, quibbling for a bagatelle."
As indifferently as if she had asked what he could at once concede Zadikov sat down at the desk she had prepared and wrote his orders to leave Budweis—to leave Brockenstein and all the gardens and houses, farms and fields; Miss Pettigrew held the candle while he wrote. When he had scrawled the last "Zadikov" she suggested that he sent these orders at once to his adjutant.
"How slightly you trust me."
"How slightly you are to be trusted—in the morning you may think: 'Why did I concede so much for nothing?'"
"In which case I could countermand these orders."
"You would never do that, for you do not wish to give an impression of weakness, of indecision."
"And what impression of weakness do I give as it is? Every one will know I have given up the town because you asked me—"
"No—as the price of the flower; I have heard of a regiment given for a drinking cup—a town for a bulb is a prettier exchange—will you leave it at that?"
Zadikov replied in formal tones: "I will leave it at that," and Miss Pettigrew sighed at the achievement of one of her most difficult victories; she allowed him to stare at her, the fine English gentlewoman so well-bred, so fastidious, so composed, a mere breath, a mere sparkle of loveliness in the warm dusk of the beautiful night; he glowered and stiffened.
"I will take these orders myself, I will not remain in the château—" Then, on the threshold of the window, "What an irony that you could not have liked me!"
Miss Pettigrew did not reply to that; she said: "Corinne will take you to the flower," and left him leaning against the window-frame, inwardly raging. He had always flattered himself that he could seize the utmost from any opportunity and this had escaped him; he had long since found that he required more for the least satisfaction that brutality could give him; he was glutted by violent victories, satiated by the trophies and spoils he could rudely wrest from the reluctant hands of fortune; strong, brave, shrewd, but wilful, reckless and extravagant, he lived on the edge of disillusion; 'an illusion of happiness' this woman had said—what, if there was not only no happiness, but even no illusion possible?
Moving always amid large events it was natural for him to think grandly; he had been answerable to few for his actions, to none for his desires, yet he had always realized his own sharp limitations. And never so keenly as to-night; he gloomed into the tranquil beauty of the skies; the moon was rising behind the avenue of trees.
"We are here to enjoy what is—not to yearn after what might be"—Zadikov's philosophy could get no further than that; he thought he would give orders to strike camp, forget his discomfiture in seeing the discomfiture of the others in his power, in sending his armies staggering sullenly on the march in the hot night, with Budweis untouched behind them—they also mortified and cheated. But he decided that it would be more noble to keep his word, and so sent his orders by one of the sentries thickly posted round the château; though no one dared intrude on him, all were disturbed as to his safety; he saw a group of Heyducks on the steps watching the lighted window; impressive and aloof, he was admired by the soldiers because he gave them confidence in his brilliant and steadfast star and never allowed them to guess that he often saw it overclouded in its progress and dimmed in its flashing.
As Zadikov paused on the terrace he could hear the agitated bells of Budweis; the people were, of course, crowding to their churches, endeavouring to mitigate the wrath of God...praying perhaps, to their Virgin Martyr, immobile in her niche. Odd that their clamours should be answered in such indirect and cynic fashion; Zadikov, who despised all the superstitions of men, stared at the moon rising into a sky emptied of the warm, rich and tender hues of early evening, and cast over in his mind the word "enchantment."
With her easy movement, both stealthy and candid, Corinne crossed the terrace and reminded him that he had not waited for the bulb, the flower that her mistress had promised him; this fantasy pleased Zadikov and he re-entered the house behind the negress; she led him seriously across the salon, past the open harpsichord and the screen, and up the stairs lit only by one bracket of candles placed high, so that he mounted through falling shadows; somewhere a window was open and the church bells, with their tedious appeal, broke the serene repose of the lovely night. Corinne opened a door on to a room lit only by moonlight and turned away down the corridor; Zadikov, pausing, saw her extinguish the candles on the stairs, as in his music the light in the window of the gaunt Russian castle had been extinguished. As he closed the door the flower welcomed him—a crown of crowded buds, half curling open, depending from a stem wreathed with thin leaves like a victor's baton with laurels, sprays shaping, in the unfluctuating light, an Imperial diadem raised on a conqueror's staff.
Miss Pettigrew was seated beside the flower; she regarded Zadikov gravely, without coquetry; she was no longer the English gentlewoman, but Antiope—
Danae—Ariadne—serious, absorbed in a dedication to the transient delights and beauties lent by the immortal gods; her hair was in a knot of classic severity and she wore a mull robe embroidered with millions of white roses.
Zadikov crossed the room, knelt beside her and put his face in his hands on her knee; she looked down at him with compassion for the brevity of mortal joy, with irony for the length of the longing, the depth of the yearning, the incompleteness of any human satisfaction; she tenderly told him to rise; as he did so his foot struck the pistol which she had not troubled to conceal.
"What is that for?" asked Zadikov, drowsily indifferent to all harsh matters.
"In case I had not liked you," said Miss Pettigrew, sighing into his arms.
She appeared diaphanous in the light from the remote moon—a creature
ravished from ineffable depths of unimagined heavens; but the vague perfume
of her locks was the perfume from the coronal on Eve's tresses, blooming in
the shade of gilded trees, as she slept through an imperishable afternoon in
an earthly Eden.
The citizens of Budweis, in solemn thanksgivings, laid offerings on the altar before Santa Rosa, virgin martyr, who had once saved the city from a dragon, and now, it seemed, from Zadikov. The rearguard of the great army had disappeared over the plains of Bavaria, leaving Budweis unscathed—a miracle! When the Burgomaster remembered the lady at the château he hastened up from the city through the park—possibly it had been her good offices?
She had gone; the château was deserted; the harpsichord stood open in the salon which was full of a sunshine definitely tinged with the sensuous melancholy of autumn.
A lingering forester had seen her departure; neat, composed, in her trim habit, with a negress and a dog, in a small travelling coach going in the opposite direction to that taken by the armies of the Russians and Imperialists.
The utmost care of Prince Zadikov could not preserve the lily; disdainful of life outside a glasshouse it vanished into a scroll of dusty brown; Zadikov sullenly wrapped this ghost of beauty and delight in a robe of Indian mull embroidered with a million white roses and kept it, secretly, in his private baggage, where the bulb perished completely and became ashes to the heart. One day, after a bitter and indecisive battle, Zadikov furious and exhausted, found this pinch of dust in the wisp of lawn, cast one away and rent the other with unsteady hands, while he cursed all dreams.
Variations on a Spanish theme composed for Diego Lopez
de Figuerra, Duque de Sommaja, Viceroy of Aragon, by Carlo Barlucchi.
[SPAIN, 18th Century.]
"Nota. To endure with grace this world, since I do not know of another. Nota. How to accomplish this? Nota. Since Beatrix de Bellefonds torments me..."
Idly Carlo Barlucchi wrote these words across the unfinished music score, idly he looked out of the window which revealed nothing but an ornate roof line and a space of bright blue sky; the room was in shadow, for the hard sunlight fell on the other side of the street; in shadow, dark and hung with many musical instruments.
Carlo Barlucchi tore up the score; the fragments of paper fluttered on to other fragments marked with notes and the name "Beatrix de Bellefonds." The young man lounged on a low leathern seat; everything in the chamber was sombre, fantastic, deep-hued; a tapestry of hideous and gigantic fruits in indigo and blackish green, a cabinet of yellow amber and black amber; heavy, dark chairs with coats of arms stamped in tarnished gold, a picture of a blond woman stifling in a bodice rigid with square-cut gems, kneeling before a warrior in scarlet armour who loomed from incomprehensible shadows where grinned an Ethiopian carrying a helmet crowned with blood-spangled plumes...on the walls musical instruments—lutes, smooth as swan-skin jelly-bags, hurdy-gurdies with silver-handles and backs gleaming like rain-washed melons, viol d'amore, striped white, black, hard, glittering even in the shadow, a flute ringed with cornelian, agate, colours of sea-drowned moss, embers suddenly quenched; in the corner a spinet painted laboriously with hard flat roses, yellowish white, purplish blue that seemed like eyes to stare across the room.
Carlo Barlucchi was attired in rich dishevelment—black velvet, point d'Alençon lace, narrow carnation ribbons, a topaz buckle for his thick black hair; he was the favourite and the sport of fortune, a prisoner of a good chance, that was his livelihood, held in Madrid by the patronage of the idle slothful grandees.
In this slumbrous life of a great city sinking in stately decay, every one sought to be drugged by music; the only passion that a corrupt, gloomy, decadent nobility discovered was the passion for an oblivion given by music. Amid the slow disintegration of Spain music alone had power to dispel the universal melancholy; the King, brooding in the Alcazar into hopeless insanity, sought solace in Farinelli—as did the filthy beggar in his ebony pipe, playing dolefully and nursing his sores in the violet shadow of a porch heavy with adoring saints.
The country was governed by foreign adventurers, while Spaniards, afflicted by a profound disillusion, a sombre lethargy, paid musicians and singers the last of the Mexican gold to give them the smallest draught from Lethe.
Carlo Barlucchi heard through the open door, the frail sound of glass chinking on glass, smelt a faint distasteful odour; he knew by this that even in the drowsy hot afternoon Felipe Hermosa, the diligent physician, was working. Barlucchi believed that he must be the only industrious person in Madrid; they shared between them this floor of an ancient palace; they were of an age and friendly; Hermoza, alert, eager, pursued knowledge with steady step and clear gaze; Barlucchi was enervated by his adoration of beauty, sighed with the lassitude left by sumptuous dreams; Hermoza knew of his useless passion for the Bellefonds, the most costly courtesan in Madrid, and thought the obsession commonplace; Barlucchi knew some of the problems the physician dared to essay to solve in his retorts and furnaces, and considered such ambitions ridiculous.
Yet they tolerated each other and even took a pleasure in each other's company.
When, in his idle despair, Barlucchi heard the tinkle of Hermoza's glasses, he rose languidly, yawned, and crossed the spacious landing that divided his apartments from those of the doctor; up those wide, shallow stairs, supporting themselves by the baluster of gilded iron which curled into the involved shape of fern fronds, had come many clients for both young men; creatures who seemed wraiths of beautiful women, creatures who seemed spectres of haughty gentlemen, imploring drugs, soporifics, music, medicine...to make life endurable.
Hermoza greeted the Italian indifferently and continued his experiments; he was lean, red-haired, and freckled; he wore trodden-over slippers, a spare black gown, spectacles, and a turban of white linen; he was yet young and resolute.
In his outer room he stood at a table and poured drops from a violet phial that curdled the liquid in a pale glass bowl into the likeness of seething milk; an inner door was open and Barlucchi could see the elongated necks of retorts, the opaque shapes of bowls and bottles, the orange square of the furnace door; thin vapours hesitated in the hot atmosphere; the room was furnished indifferently with worn chairs and a discreet screen.
"How idle you are!" remarked Hermoza.
"I am tired of writing music, I soothe every one but myself. I detest Spain. The very air is heavy with slumber. Madrid is like a rotten pomegranate decaying in the desert."
"Yet you remain here because you earn a great deal of scudi, and loll and grow fat; whereas in Naples you would have to quarrel with others for a bone."
"Not at all. In Naples the life is free, active, joyous, every one is alive, even the beggars dance—"
"Bah! you are an idler; even your music is not very good. You turn over the same tunes again and again."
"Is that not what they want? Farinelli has sung the same four songs to His Majesty every night for ten years—and has he not the Cross of St. Iago, three thousand gold ducats every year and more influence than anyone in Spain?"
"The King is a lunatic."
"Nevertheless, it is very agreeable for Farinelli who, after all, has a voice like a nightingale."
"And it is very agreeable for you who, in return for a sonata for the clavier, an ode, a motet, or a symphony, can obtain money, caresses, velvet clothes, Tokai, and down pillows."
"You misunderstand me," protested the Italian, mildly. "I am oppressed by all this luxury, I am profoundly dissatisfied—I wish to write a mighty opera on the theme of Armida or Circe, but I never even finish a symphony—every day I dream more..."
"Of Beatrix de Bellefonds?" sneered the physician, peering into the glass globe that was now dense as white coral.
"She is my chief illusion."
"You are enamoured of her because a hopeless love requires no exertion. It is easy for you, knowing all endeavour useless, to sigh and slumber."
"You think I have chosen her out of laziness?"
"Certainly. Does she not belong to the Duque de Sommaja, Viceroy of Aragon? You might as reasonably hope for a smile from the Madonna of the Seven Swords on the High Altar of the Cathedral."
"I know that all my desires are impossible, that is why I am tormented, the world I wish to inhabit does not exist—I describe it in my music, and Giambattista Tiepolo has been there—you can see it on his canvasses."
"A crazy, motley universe," mocked the physician. "Lilac parasols, diamond cuirasses, palaces upside down, leopards entangled in mantles of rose brocade, peacocks plucking at grapes made of emeralds...hurry, folly, tritons, satyrs—"
"And everywhere love," interrupted Barlucchi. "Love in pearls, in radiant clouds, in translucent seas, in fields of roses and lilies, riding a white hippocampus or a unicorn with a coral horn, blowing a gold trumpet, playing on steps of alabaster—air, light, beauty, love—"
"Enough!" cried the physician, "this is all very trivial—Tiepolo, like you, gets excellent pay for his dreams; you drive people crazy between you—every one is tantalized with glimpses of the impossible; many become imbecile with melancholy, because painters and musicians create this world no one can enter."
Barlucchi approached the table.
"What do you create, Hermoza? With your ugly smells, powders, fumes and potions?"
"Knowledge," smiled the Spaniard with a fierce red glance.
"And what is the use of this knowledge save to preserve illusion? These women in black lace veils, these men in dominos, who come here—what is their errand? To buy some mess to prolong the Spring—a wash for the face, drops to keep the eyes ardent, a drug to renew strength and spirits—above all, to beg for the elixir of love, of youth!" Barlucchi spoke excitedly; his smooth, plump face flushed, his large black eyes gleamed. "Yes, you old charlatan," he added hurriedly, "you deceive as deeply as I, and not so pleasantly—yes, that is true, you rob all your clients, for you can do nothing for them—nothing!"
"Oh, can't I?" sneered Hermoza, "I assure you that they are very well satisfied."
"That is only because you are clever enough to hoodwink them—despite all your concoctions, they have gout, dropsy, and pimples; they become wrinkled, bent, blear-eyed, soft, fat and swollen as a bursting fig, or thin, hollow and dry as an ear of corn when the grain is shaken out—they lose their teeth, their noses become red and glistening, they can no longer slip their rings over their twisted knuckles—they turn from each other with disgust and to God with despair, and then they come to me, to Carlo Barlucchi, for music, for memory, for hope, for oblivion!"
"How noisy you are," remarked Hermoza. "Even if it is as you say, some people manage to slip out of the world quite content. It is all this hectic nonsense of Love, Beauty, Youth, that complicates life so."
"Bah! you understand nothing!" cried the musician. "Why do I talk to such a dried hide of a man?"
"Why don't you go and write a Cantata for the Bellefonds?"
"Because my heart is so dismal. I have youth, money, good looks, and I am merely wasting my time. I allow every opportunity of pleasure to escape me because I cannot possess the Bellefonds. I must be a fool."
"What is that you are making?" asked Barlucchi gloomily.
Hermoza was pouring the thick white liquid into bottles the colour of a Persian violet.
"A lotion for the Bellefonds to wash her arms with——"
"She is already as pure, as pale-skinned as a magnolia leaf."
"But she is afraid, you see," grinned the Spaniard, "of a little mark, a little stain, a tiny wrinkle."
Two eunuchs in the Sommaja livery pushed open the door and Beatrix de Bellefonds entered, attended by two duennas with greenish bilious faces, long scraggy necks, and farthingales a hundred years out of fashion and two pages from Andalusia, short, swarthy, wearing the Sommaja colours of flame and citron; one carried a white spaniel with bells of scarlet glass on its collar, the other supported a stand on which a macaw, green as verjuice, tore to pieces a luscious over-ripe peach.
The Bellefonds was delighted to see the handsome young musician; it gave her great pleasure to torment him; she was insolent with success. For six months she had belonged to the Viceroy of Aragon, and as he applied all the revenues of that kingdom to his own pleasures he had been able to give even this rapacious courtesan all she wished.
She was fond of saying:
"Sommaja gives me everything I want."
It was true that she lived under lock and key, behind lattices, that she went abroad in closed litters or coaches with the curtains drawn, and never without two eunuchs, the two duennas and the two pages, but if she missed the liberty she had enjoyed in France she did not complain.
She spread her splendours on the sunken leathern seat, she unlaced her red silk corsets on a chemise of silver-threaded lawn, lamenting the oppressive heat; her pale hair, lengthened with braids of pearl and ribbons sewn with diamonds, fell to her waist; a dozen veils and laces of precious tissues drooped from her shoulders.
She also accused Barlucchi of idleness.
"How you waste your time! As I came up the stairs I listened in vain for your music—I thought, 'He is asleep or with his mistress'."
"Would not that be wasted time?" asked Hermoza, considering her without admiration.
"There is pleasure in slumber, in love—but Signor Barlucchi, he does nothing!"
She snapped her fan on to her bosom wickedly, inviting the young man to look at her warm, voluptuous, transient loveliness from which she had loosed off her black satin mantle; she wore a black tricorne with an emerald agraffe; she had several flowers at her corsage so that she might continually drop and readjust them; with a hand that held a scrap of batiste she jerked up her garlanded flounces to the knee, showing gauze stockings, silk shoes with mother o' pearl heels; the duennas brought out their rosaries and the harsh mutter of their prayers accompanied the whispering chatter of the macaw.
"You know that I have no mistress," said Barlucchi coldly.
"How foolish you are!"
"I know that, Madame de Bellefonds."
"And how handsome," smiled the lady, "but you must be careful you do not become too plump. I dislike a man who looks as if he fed on snails. Why do you not write me a song?" she added.
"Because you have no means of paying him," sneered the doctor, handing the pages the lilac-coloured bottles and winking at the ugliest duenna.
"Sommaja will pay," smiled the Bellefonds, adding her familiar boast—"he buys me everything I want."
Barlucchi had frequently wondered what kind of man was the Spanish grandee who could afford this beautiful woman, who paid for her jewels, her palace, her horses, her attendant, her whims; he had seen him occasionally in the distant gloom of a corridor in the Alcazar, or in profile outlined against green leather curtains, riding in a gilded coach drawn by six Polish steeds...he did not seem real to the musician, but yet he appeared to hover disdainfully, an invisible power, about his mistress and servants.
Barlucchi's tormented heart ached with envy...to have so much power and wealth, to be able to own such an insolent, greedy, gorgeous creature and, even better, to cast her aside, if one tired...
"Eh, but you look melancholy," mocked the lady, pleased with his flattering distress. "I will certainly tell Sommaja to order you to write something gay for me."
"I was wondering," said Barlucchi sombrely, "if you ever consider the day when you will be a heap of yellow bones."
"Such a commonplace," she retorted, rising, "is in the worst possible taste. Besides, the soul is immortal."
"But I spoke of the body, and that is really all you are concerned with."
The courtesan faced him with disdain; when she was startled out of her affectations her eyes were hard with sternly-acquired wisdom.
"Do you not think one must be very valiant to dare to be beautiful?" she asked. "I spare nothing, I miss nothing, I take every hazard, and know that in the end I lose them all—put that in your music for me. Only virtue is cowardly enough to tremble for the future."
"Yet the day will come when you, too, will buy oblivion at a high price," Barlucchi warned her, "but my music will not give it to you, for I shall be dead of pining sloth."
"I wish you were dead now," complained the physician peevishly, "for I want to get on with my work."
Every one laughed at him.
"You must be the only industrious man in Madrid," mocked the Bellefonds.
She left them, with her studied walk, her swaying grace, her fingers in her loosened corsage, the wilting blossoms of her bouquet crushed in the pleated lawn, her eyes slightly reddened and swollen as if she had not slept last night, keenly turned to Barlucchi; the duennas tripped, the eunuchs waddled, the pages dawdled after her; their high heels went tap, tap, on the wide, worn, spacious stairs.
"Can't you see how trivial and ridiculous she is?" asked Hermoza impatiently. "If you saw her without all those fantastic ornaments I doubt if you would even find her beautiful. Come, Barlucchi, come, you are living in a fry tale, nothing of what you prize is real, why don't you go out and observe how other people live?"
"Why should their lives be more real than mine?" protested the musician. "However, I will do as you say, I will nose round Madrid and search for reality—perhaps thus I may forget the Bellefonds."
"As long as you leave me in peace—" grumbled the physician, shuffling towards his laboratory.
Carlo Barlucchi passed into the airless streets of Madrid; the heat was dry, heavy; the shadows seemed as solid as substance in the doorways and across the alleys under the massive gables of the houses.
The first person Barlucchi met was a ragged melon-seller; the musician would have liked to question him on matters of philosophy, but was absorbed by the beauty of the melons, the broad gleaming swell of the rind, like a lute, the rosy gash moist with juice; details always distracted him—that was what the doctor meant, he lived in a fry tale...
On the shadowed steps of a monstrous church two little water-carriers ate figs; they were so dirty Barlucchi would not stop to question them; he turned into a wine-shop, the smell of the olla podrida, of the garlic and onions hanging on the filthy walls, of the customers themselves, was nauseating.
"Would Hermoza call that real life?" murmured Barlucchi, as he retreated—"is nothing genuine save it is verminous?"
As he continued his way through the hot streets he reflected: "Besides these people also seek illusion, oblivion, though they can afford only bad wine."
He entered a huge church; hundreds of gigantic saints frowned on the facade; before the wadded curtains at the door vile beggars pointed out neglected sores and deformed limbs; inside the church was dark with brown shadows, vast, lofty, filled with the vapours of stale incense, sparkling with many altars that glittered through the gloom; a monk was praying before a cavernous chapel where the trembling stars of candles lit pictures of writhing tortured martyrs.
When he had finished his devotions Barlucchi addressed him, and begged him for a copy of his prayer.
"What, father, pleases God best? How does one get out of a faery tale to real life?"
"My son," replied the monk, "I have long since ceased to compose prayers. They have all been said so often. Every day I recite the letters of the alphabet, and beg God, Who, with those signs has composed holy writ, to make Himself a prayer as best suits Him out of my offering."
"As for your second question, you had better go to Suliman Ali, the wise Eastern; he really knows everything—a wicked man, but useful; he lives by the Perseus fountain, the house with the yellow-tiled balcony and the knocker shaped like an Amphitryon."
The musician hastened to this address, near hopeless of any assistance in rearranging his confused life, even of ridding himself of the passion that was wasting his youth.
A dwarf answered his knock and seemed vexed at being disturbed.
"You cannot see Suliman Ali," he snarled, "because he hanged himself this morning. When it is cooler I shall cut him down."
Barlucchi thought this a sour jest, but the deformity offered to show him the dangling philosopher; Barlucchi hastily refused and asked if the wise man had left a message?
"Only this: I have tried every vice under the sun and there is nothing in any of them."
"He might, perhaps, have sampled virtue."
"How could he? He always maintained there was no such thing."
The dwarf slammed the door and Barlucchi went to the Alcazar and found his friend and patron, Carlo Brioschi, called Farinelli—either, as his friends declared, from some property in his family or, as his enemies averred, because his father had been a baker and he had grown up daubed with flour.
Farinelli ruled Spain, but with such lazy good nature that he offended none; all day he rested, fed, made his toilet; every evening he sang his four songs to Philip de Bourbon King of Spain, and thus kept His Majesty the safe side of lunacy.
Farinelli was becoming plump, he had many chins below his pink, soft, hairless face; his diamond rings cut into his fat fingers, his pale satin coats were tight under the arms, and under the stiff azure velvet bow that held in place his long powdered curls, his neck showed in little rolls of flesh; still he was yet very agreeable and comely, as his portrait by his friend Amicone shows.
Always he had been treated as a deity; in London, where he was almost received with frenzy, they had cried—"One God, one Farinelli!" His powers were certainly transcendant; he would really warble like a celestial nightingale; to hear his sustained notes rise and fall in the "Folia," or twenty-four variations by Corelli, or swell and diminish in some of the compositions written especially to display his execution by his teacher Nicolo Porpora, was indeed to be admitted to Paradise.
Barlucchi told him of his quest.
"If I am in a dream, an illusion, a faery story, I want to get out of it. Also, I am obsessed by the Bellefonds."
Farinelli, used to dealing with imbeciles, smiled indulgently; he had himself no fault but vanity, no vice but gluttony, no passion save for fine clothes and sleep.
"Caro amico," he said, that light famous voice as carefully used as if he dispensed gold, "have you had any dinner?"
"No, I forgot about it."
"I thought so. You will not talk so much nonsense when you have discussed my capon, truffles, pineapple, Falerian."
Barlucchi stamped his foot in impatience.
"Every one puts me off. I must be right or wrong."
"Of course," soothed Farinelli, playing with his stars.
"Well, then, which is it? Either I do move in a dream, as Hermoza says, or I do not—either the Bellefonds is worth pining for or she is not."
"Exactly," smiled Farinelli.
His smooth blandness further irritated his protégé.
"You, of course, caro maestro," he exclaimed, "care nothing but preserving your voice for those four songs—"
"Of course not," agreed the singer, opening his small eyes wide. "Does not the domestic felicity of Their Majesties, the welfare of a vast kingdom, depend on my four songs?"
"But, how foolish!" murmured Barlucchi ungratefully, for his own fortunes had been made by the tenor.
He escaped and entered the apartments of His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop, who was always pleased to see him, and for whom he was composing a Mass.
His Eminence, with silver scissors, was clipping off the withered leaves from a jasmine plant that grew in an alabaster vase; he was watched by Catalina de Rabais, who had once been a dancer in the courts of the Alhambra, capering in tatters for a few pence; now she was nearly as indulged, nearly as insolent as the Bellefonds; she rubbed her dark skin with violet-coloured powder, and put kohl under her eyes till the whites appeared like nacre.
"Eminence," said Barlucchi, "I have not brought the Mass, but a problem."
The Cardinal Archbishop listened courteously. And had his answer immediately ready.
"The only reality is the persistence of the dream, knowledge is as obvious an illusion as beauty; the King listening to Farinelli, the beggar with his patch of sun, his white piece—each in his degree tries to blind himself to the misery of his fate—if Life is a deception, Death is at least a certainty, and you are lucky if you can approach so grim a fact by means of a faery tale. The pictures of Signor Giambattista Tiepolo, that you mention, contain as much truth as you will find in flea-bitten galley-slaves quarrelling over their chains, or an old blind hag dying in a lazar-house."
"What jargon!" said Catalina, who resented the last allusion.
"As for your second question," continued His Eminence, "the woman worth waiting for has not yet been created. If you miss a single possible hour of pleasure you are a fool. Patience is as alien to love as fidelity. There are a number of ladies in Madrid who, if given the opportunity of a closeted half-hour would make you forget the Bellefonds."
Barlucchi found something definite in this; he took his leave gratefully; Catalina ran after him, he had left his glove by the pot of jasmine, she contrived to whisper to him, to suggest an appointment; she admired him very much, she longed for his kisses, she assured him that, viewed under proper conditions, she was really prettier than the Bellefonds but despite the Cardinal Archbishop's advice, the musician's melancholy black eyes declared:
"You are not the woman."
He returned to his apartment, lounged over a meal, slept a blank hour, awoke to find himself summoned by his servant...A client, a personage, the Duque de Sommaja, Viceroy of Aragon.
Adjusting his person with agitated hands Barlucchi hastened to the outer room and stood obsequious in the presence of the grandee, who entirely effaced his surroundings by the splendour which enveloped him like an aureole.
Ignoring Barlucchi, and staring straight in front of him, the Viceroy commanded:
"A piece of music for a lady. Play it now."
"Your Excellency," stammered the musician, "I do not compose as rapidly as that."
"No?" replied the Viceroy coldly, "then I will wait." He waved away the lackeys who had crowded after him, and seated himself near the spinet.
"Excellency," implored Barlucchi, who felt very uneasy. "I cannot—at a moment—I lack the theme—the title—"
"The theme," replied the grandee, "is a woman—the title, Capriccio. Proceed."
As Barlucchi hesitated, the Viceroy added:
"You are a musician, are you not?"
Barlucchi was stung by that; he seated himself at the spinet and began to play; there was certainly some inspiration in the theme of the Bellefonds. In his music he might express another man's passion for her and his own—Capriccio in his native tongue—vagary, whim, temper, expressive of her and himself, of the canvasses of Giambattista Tiepolo, of his own saunterings through Madrid that morning.
He composed as he played, intervolved melodies rushing up to a suspended climax, halting, returning, at once petulant and melancholy, self-confident and wistful.
As he played he looked over the top of the spinet at the grandee, looked with awe, curiosity, with a touch of fear at that magnificent figure; to the vivacious and volatile musician it seemed impossible to credit the sedate, austere Spaniard with any human feelings.
Diego Lopez de Figuerra, Duque de Sommaja, Viceroy of Aragon, Knight of the Golden Fleece and of Saint Iago, sat immobile, his long limbs disposed with stiff grace, his wide-skirted coat rigid with metallic thread and bullion embroidery, a smother of lace and diamonds on his breast, his chin held up, the nostrils of his aquiline nose curving down, rows of pomaded curls, precise, exact above his powdered ears and flowing to his waist behind; a wooden image, thought Barlucchi, endeavouring to feel contemptuous.
But the narrow, dark eyes of the Viceroy, which flickered quickly beneath his languorous lids, proved him no image.
He deigned to approve the music but declared it needed improvement—polish—an added grace, a final provoking impertinence; he condescended to promise a return visit.
Barlucchi detested and admired him; in the presence of the lover of Beatrix de Bellefonds his own passion increased; as he played he felt he was the other man's proxy in the affair; a torment, but one he could not forego.
After, as he considered, he had perfected his piece he went across to Hermoza's apartments to plague the physician with his melancholy and his music, but that personage, screaming with annoyance, drove him away and locked the door in his face.
"I am engaged on a most interesting experiment!" he yelled through the keyhole. "Go away, you stupid idiot!"
Barlucchi, however, did not lack distraction; a negress tapped at his chamber; she brought a basket of rice straw full of rose-gold nectarines—a gift from Catalina de Rabais; the choice stolen treasure of the Cardinal Archbishop's gardens.
Barlucchi was pleased that the lady had become enamoured of him, but it was useless to think of returning her passion until he could rid himself of his obsession about the Bellefonds.
The days so hot, so lazy, settled to a formal pattern for Carlo Barlucchi; every afternoon Sommaja, sumptuously attended came to hear him play over Capriccio, every evening the negress brought a basket of nectarines, every night he lay awake sighing for the Bellefonds.
Hermoza frequently came to see him and ate or pocketed Catalina's fruit.
"What a fool you are!" he remarked; "why don't you try to win the silly woman? My invention has been very successful. Sommaja is pleased."
"What," cried Barlucchi, "he comes to see you also?"
"Certainly. He seeks knowledge as well as beauty. A clever man."
The piece of music had reached perfection; Sommaja admitted as much; Hermoza's work had also been completed with delight at least to himself; he carried away the neglected pannier of fruit, with ugly grins of pleasure; both these tasks had been hurried to a conclusion through the indolent sequence of dry summer days when Madrid and her gardens rank with over-ripe flowers and fruit, seemed to corrupt in the sun.
The day the music was finished Sommaja told Barlucchi to send it to his palace; the musician ran after him with the sudden recollection of an omission on the part of his patron:
"Your Excellency has not given me the lady's name?"
He stopped; the grandee was leaving Hermoza's apartments and had a nectarine in his hand, one of the Prince Archbishop's nectarines, named "Fortune's Kiss." Barlucchi thought this strange, and stared.
Sommaja stared also as if he perceived an impertinence.
"The piece of music Capriccio is for a lady named Catalina de Rabais," he said with stern coldness, and haughtily descended the stairs, leaving Barlucchi confounded.
Had the grandee, then, left the coveted Bellefonds for a woman whom he, the humble musician, could have had so easily—the cunning, wanton, dark gypsy, Catalina?
Barlucchi could scarcely realize his good luck; he had to find Hermoza and tell him about it; the physician was in his laboratory, eyeing the nectarines which stood in a row before some sinister, murky, elongated bottles; he hastily put a bag of scudi into his pocket as Barlucchi entered, and remarked, thoughtfully:
"Sommaja certainly pays very well."
"One of your nectarines."
Disgusted by this rubbish the musician hastened away and wrote "For Beatrix de Bellefonds" under the piece, Capriccio; he would not sell it to Sommaja, but himself present it to the lady for whom it was written.
Afterwards, with the scroll in the pocket of his gala coat, he went to the barber's shop and there spent the entire afternoon, a fact he eternally repented afterwards; but the day was so hot, the barber's parlour so cool, with a lemon-scented fountain spraying on green marble, the barber himself so entertaining with his scandalous gossip...In the purple twilight, which seemed full of the golden heat vapours of the day, Barlucchi, shaved, frizzled, powdered, perfumed, with his guitar slung round his shoulders, full of joyful anticipation, waited before the severe palace with the latticed windows, where Beatrix de Bellefonds resided.
As he was about to begin the Capriccio that was to console the forsaken beauty by striking his guitar and opening his mouth, he saw a side-door open and some shadows, black as Erebus, come forth.
Barlucchi's hand dropped from the strings, his song was unuttered.
The dark shapes were four monks carrying a coffin.
Barlucchi approached this dismal procession.
"Who is it," he whispered, "you carry away?"
"Beatrix de Bellefonds," replied one of the monks. "She died penitent—they all do."
"What did she die of?" stammered the musician.
"A nectarine she ate this afternoon—it was overripe, and the heat, you know, Señor—"
They proceeded gravely on their way with the slender coffin; laughter made the distracted musician glance upwards; Catalina smiled from a high window; her expression scorned him for lost opportunities; her mockery was eclipsed by a steady hand that closed the grille before the window; Barlucchi knew that those long fingers belonged to the Duque de Sommaja.
He ran back to his apartments and, exhausted with rage and grief, broke in on Hermoza, who was cooking himself a chicken spiced with bay leaves.
"I know what you sold the Viceroy!" sobbed Barlucchi, "in that nectarine..."
"No, you do not," snapped the doctor; "I have been far too careful. Besides, she was a jealous woman and would not let him go quietly, and boasted too much—it got on his nerves to hear her continually saying—'He gives me everything I want.'"
"You have destroyed the creature I would have given all the stars for!"
"No, you would not—you are in love merely with your own dreams. Besides Knowledge must destroy Beauty, that is its mission."
Barlucchi crept to his own room, unslung the guitar, and sorrowfully drew the piece of music from his pocket; he wished that he had given it to the monks to put in her grave. He could only tear the score to fragments, and that was a poor revenge, for both he and Sommaja had every note by heart.
Soothed by his tears the musician had glimmering glimpses of how order and light might be obtained and the balance held, between the dreams of the poet and the account book of the money-changer; but he knew that he was not the man to accomplish this, and a soft resignation fell on his spirit.
Sommaja had, after all, proved a benefactor; he had removed the Bellefonds beyond the reach of any man's longing, and he had taken Catalina, who was beginning to annoy Barlucchi with her negress and her baskets of fruit; the musician became philosophic; perhaps a third woman combining the merits of both these beauties might be discovered in Madrid? He was also hungry, and a tender aroma from Hermoza's capon penetrated his dusk-filled apartment.
Barlucchi crossed the landing; the physician was dismissing a late and unwelcome patient.
"Señora, no art can conceal pride or a squint—all you can do is to allow one to neutralize the other; let your arrogance be so high that people are shaken in their conviction that you have a defect."
The capon was deliciously cooked—the sauces were excellent—the wine superb; the fruits appeared to have been grown in Giambattista Tiepolo's far-drawn world; Hermoza generously shared these delicacies with the subdued musician, whose appetite was not spoilt by the reflection that the scudi the Viceroy had given for the poisoned nectarine had probably paid for the feast.
Lights flickered up in the high-set windows of Madrid, a warm breeze fluttered in the close streets, as if a thousand people yawned with relief at the setting of the sun; Farinelli strutted to the room of the green mirrors to sing his four songs to the King.
As Carlo Barlucchi raised his glass and drank to the inscrutable faces of goat-bodied Chimera, he heard the doleful pipe of a beggar playing below one of the melodies he had used in Capriccio.
Set for the Imperialist forces under the command of Albrecht von Wallenstein, Duke of Friedland, Sagan, Glogau and Mecklenburg, Count Palatine, at Castle Karolsfeld, outside Nuremberg. [THE EMPIRE, 17th Century.]
Trumpets blared in the courtyard of Castle Karolsfeld. The Castle which rose black amid black pines into a black sky, was empty save for three people—a wounded man, a woman, and a pastor.
Some months before, the Imperialist forces had passed through Karolsfeld and one wing of the Castle was now merely a wall, half-consumed by fire, and those rooms yet habitable in the other portion had been pillaged and defiled; here and there on a wall hung some decorations, some rent tapestries and splintered wood smashed by wanton blows from pike or musketoon, and in the room where the sick man lay was a scant arrangement of broken furniture, a torn tapestry across the unglazed window, and a poor lamp burning rank oil standing on a cracked and broken marble table.
The wounded man lay on an old mattress and some rank straw which had come from the stables; his cuirass and gorget, rusted with dried blood and flung beside the rude bed, dully reflected the coarse lamplight; his wound was festering and his tainted blood ran thickly; he held the woman's hand; the pastor supported his head on which the yellow hair hung flat and dank with sweat.
The three listened to the trumpets and to a great clatter and stir which came from below, splitting the sombre melancholy of the night into a thousand fierce interwoven noises.
"The Imperialists," whispered the wounded man, and he added, on a bitter note, "I had hoped they would have overlooked Karolsfeld on their retreat."
Without saying anything the woman loosened her hand from his and gave him to drink out of an earthenware mug. The pastor rose, crept to the window, lifted the tapestry and looked out on to the wide and magnificent courtyard, one side of which had been battered down so that the forest loomed sudden and fierce into the building, and then was full of men and horses; as far as the old man's eyes could see straining into the dark, was the flicker of torchlight and the shape of waggons, carts, furled pavilions, and the crossed lines of pikes and spears.
In the centre of the courtyard a man in black armour had raised at the end of a pole a bowl of flaming pitch, and the crimson light of this streamed over the glossy shapes of rearing horses, the vague forms of plumed and cloaked men, and over a mighty banner which moved slowly and solemnly in the night breeze and was emblazoned with monstrous double black eagles.
The pastor dropped the tapestry. He was grave and composed. The woman still held the mug of water to the dry lips of the feverish man.
"As we expected," said the old man, "Wallenstein—on the march to Saxony, as I suppose."
They had had news of that oncoming march earlier in the day from flying peasants whose clothes appeared scorched by cinders from their burning farms. Wallenstein was retreating before the Swede after a nine hours' battle, and was like enough to come that way...by Karolsfeld.
"They appear in some disorder," added the pastor quietly. "What shall we do? We should have left before, even if it were only into the woods."
The woman did not answer. She knew the woods were no safer than the castle. For months she had fled from one pressing danger to another—hiding, creeping, lying in concealment. The pastor had sheltered her until the fireballs had fallen upon his roof, and when her betrothed lover was wounded in a foray as he rode with his party to join the Swedes and staggered back to her hiding-place, he had found her and the old man homeless; between them they had dragged him to the ruins of his castle of Karolsfeld, and there he had lain, a helpless man for two days. The woman had crept out to the devastated village and found some store of dried fruit put by for the winter in one of the fallen cottages, and in another a little grain, which she had pounded into meal, and so with wild-berries, and fish that the old man had got from the river which ran below the rock on which the castle stood, they had lived, while the young man prayed to find the strength to lead the woman and the pastor, through no matter what adventure, to the Swedish lines or Nürnberg; but, instead, he had become weaker. A blue pallor had begun to show through his fine tanned skin and often he had had to clench his hands to control the desire to cry aloud with agony.
"Wallenstein," he murmured, stupidly, "Wallenstein in defeat."
The woman rose and straightened her gown. It was of silk and torn by the sharp bushes from among which she had gathered the wild-berries. She said:
"Surely Wallenstein will not touch a woman, a wounded man and a priest?"
The prostrate youth put his fingers to the bloodstained rags on his breast.
"We are in great danger," he sighed out and slowly swooned.
Covered by a small handkerchief, which she had in happier days embroidered with bright blue flowers, was a precious drop of brandy in a horn cup; the pastor had saved this for a desperate emergency; as the woman, on her knees again, with careful anxiety moistened her lover's distorted lips with these costly drops, she was unconscious of the gathering noise and disorder which overwhelmed their melancholy peace. Loud murmurings lifted the silence as the sullen light lifted the dark.
A scarlet flame of pitch was being carried up the dark stairs where in gaunt niches lay the shattered busts of Caesars carved from crimson marble.
This was the end of a hard tumultuous day for the Imperialists, and all the men murmured and groaned among themselves; as they moved, their armour rattled like an echo of the crackling fusillade of the Swedes to which they had been for ten hours exposed.
As the blast of an angry storm the Imperialists entered Karolsfeld.
The door of the chamber where the three fugitives waited was flung open and a scarred soldier entered, followed by others, holding out a torch of flaring pitch; Wallenstein could endure no lesser light.
The pastor and the woman looking round in silence, endeavoured to distinguish one man from another in the group that this red light disclosed, but all these warriors were hot, flushed and bitter, in armour, cloaked and plumed; all spoke and moved as if with one volition, so that it seemed to the pastor that he did not see many men but one gigantic symbol of war, a cloudy impersonal cohort of Mars.
But the woman distinguished one from the press.
He was bareheaded and carried his broadsword under his arm. She knew him for the leader and the great Wallenstein. He had in close attendance on him, a dwarf in a fantastic habit of sulphurous yellow and acrid green, who was nearly rolling drunk yet sucked continuously at a horn of liquor he had slung round his waist.
More light, and the little group it revealed, arrested the progress of the Imperialists, who had believed they were sweeping through an empty and ruined habitation.
The pastor stepped forward, putting up a silent petition to God that he might find strength to face this fearful man, and Wallenstein detached himself from his officers and came down the room, accompanied only by the lolling dwarf and the soldier with the pitchpine flare.
"Who is here?" he asked, and snatched a soiled cloth from his waist to dry the sweat on his forehead.
The pastor made no salutation to the Bohemian who was to him as the Prince of the Powers of Darkness—the Bohemian who was reputed to be able to stamp the devil out of the ground by thundering with his mailed foot; the old man had nothing to lose but his life and his honour; though of the first he had grown wearily careless, the second he yet held precious.
"Sire, I am Martin Gernsheim," he said.
"A heretic priest," commented Wallenstein, glancing down at the speaker's habit.
"A servant of the Lord."
"And these?" Wallenstein waved his hand towards the straw.
The woman still knelt there with her unconscious lover's head on her lap and looked over her shoulder at the Imperialists.
"That," replied Gernsheim, "is Graf Sylvain Eckhardt Erlangen the owner of Karolsfeld, who has returned here after much disorder and vicissitude of war to die, as I think."
"Graf Erlangen," repeated Wallenstein slowly, "that is a noble name. I knew his father—he had a better judgment and bore arms for the Emperor. Who is the woman?"
"She is Graf Erlangen's betrothed wife, Saba de Hohendorff; her father, her brother, her cousin, all have been slain in the war, and she is reduced to seek some shelter with me. This is her and his last retreat. I do not ask too much, even from you, Graf Wallenstein, when I demand protection for a dying man and a noble lady."
"You speak," replied Wallenstein, "like all your fry, cunningly and presumptuously." He turned to the woman. "Stand up," he commanded.
She rose, and again she smoothed out the thin silk gown torn by the wild bushes.
The soldier slightly dipped the pitchpine flare and illumined her from head to foot.
Wallenstein stared at her, shifting his sword under his arm and twisting round and round his lean wrist the cloth with which he had lately wiped his brow. A slight cut had broken out into fresh bleeding and the red blood had soaked into his soiled linen.
Saba de Hohendorff stood motionless under this cruel scrutiny. Tenderly bred and through all her youth admired and cherished, she hardly yet realized what war made of men. She stood timid, but without any great fear or supplication, before the Imperial commander.
Wallenstein remembered a figure he had seen over a wide church porch in a deserted village; so had that stone saint stood in flowing gown and close-girdled, with serene look and helpless hands; and he, riding by sullen and discontented, had chanced to glance up; the stone countenance pure and undefaced, had seemed to smile at him with compassion. Even as he had looked, one of his men had raised a carbine, fired, and shattered the figure, so that the stone shards had fallen down before the battered church door. Wallenstein had explained to none why he had stopped the march to hang that soldier.
The brandy, the light and the noise had restored Graf Sylvain to his senses. He writhed on to his side, plucked at Saba's skirts to pull her aside, and whispered:
The two men peered at each other with curiosity.
"I am glad that you and no lesser captain have come," whispered the young Graf, "for I must, being myself, as I take it, dying, entreat your protection for an old man and this lady."
"Ah, young Erlangen," replied Wallenstein softly, "you have come to a fearful pass. I recall Karolsfeld when it held a hundred serving-men in the kitchen and fifty horses in the stables."
Graf Sylvain did not answer, but the pastor said:
"And now there are but rats and owls, sire, and such is war."
Wallenstein turned to his officers and said that he would make his quarters in Karolsfeld that night, bade them inform the sutlers and have his furniture and provisions brought into the ruins, and a large pavilion set up in the courtyard, with the Emperor's flag and his own raised above the highest fragment of the battered keep. "Or, if that be higher, the tallest pine tree. The moon rises, so you can the better see, and, if I recall well, Karolsfeld is on a mighty height."
"You keep us," said Martin Gernsheim sternly, "in a suspense as to our affairs, general."
Wallenstein replied negligently:
"Erlangen is noble and dying, I have no business with him, nor with you. There are many wounded men with me and sufficient surgeons. If you will, you may have him carried out to the pavilion and given what comfort there is."
"And the noble woman?" asked the pastor. "Where shall I find fitting accommodation for her?"
"You will find none," replied Wallenstein, "you will leave her here with me for company."
The wounded man groaned out: "Then I will not be moved."
Saba de Hohendorff turned from one to the other, bewildered, and beginning to be afraid.
"She stays," said Wallenstein, "and you may do as you please."
He seated himself on the chest by the window, from which he pulled down the square of tapestry and, seeming to be lost in dark brooding, stared down at the hubbub below, over which then fell the quiet light of the rising moon.
The sutlers were coming in with the baggage—beds, utensils, furnishings and provisions were being hurried into Karolsfeld. Gold and silver dishes mingled with earthen pots; kettles, ladles, baskets and cradles of wine were dragged up the stairs; grease and bread were handed out to the soldiers on the confines of the wood and the courtyard, and some began to make porridge.
Wallenstein, as if he noticed none of this, remained at the window-place, and his major-generals and marshals, believing him in the worst of moods, left him and as quietly as might be, departed from the room.
The Imperialists had been ten hours under fire, and ten hours in retreat; none of them had uttered the word "defeat" for, although the famous Swede had thrust upon their forces with all his ferocious valour, with all the force of his famous and victorious soldiers, he had not been able to break their ranks. Wallenstein had resisted a murderous and infuriated discharge from culverin, cannon and musket; his Black Cuirassiers, his Uhlans, his Poles and Bavarians had fallen, but not fled, before an atmosphere that sparkled fire, crackled as if lashed with whips. Amid clods of earth raised by falling cannon-balls, splinters of wood and shards of stone, falling farms and mills, amid flaming trees and smoking turf the troops of Wallenstein had stood steady. But, in the night, without disclosing his plans to any, not even to Piccolomini or Pappenheim, those brilliant and most successful of soldiers, the Imperialist commander had drawn off his shattered troops and left the Swede undisturbed in Nürnberg. For ten hours the men had marched towards Saxony; waggons went heavily with the wounded and dying, the dead in their blood-besmirched, dirt-befouled clothing marked the track of the retreating forces.
Wallenstein, like one in heavy thought, had ridden ahead of all, immediately before the standard of the black eagles of the Empire. At one time, as they passed through the beautiful woods of early autumn he had seen a bird in a wild cherry tree among the yet green fruit, and, taking his carbine from his saddle, had fired at it, watching to see it fall; he who was glutted with the slaughter of war had turned in his saddle to see the little bird lying in the sweet grass; he had seemed more like a man tormented than one who has satisfied his lust.
Those who knew him were aware that he would not leave his place by the window where he sat looking down brooding upon his half-unseen army which spread over the wide slopes of the mountains. As he sat there with arms crossed, they brought him water in a great bowl. At Wallenstein's feet lay the dwarf, now sunk into an intoxicated slumber; his chest heaved with spasms, and his crooked face twitched. Wallenstein pushed him aside with his foot and washed away the blood, the dust and the sweat from his own face and hands.
Saba de Hohendorff, who had taken a little stool and sat by the head of her lover's straw pallet, watched Wallenstein. She had never seen him before, but no other name since the war began—and that was all her youth—had ever been so frequently in her ears as that of Albrecht Wenzel Eusebiws, Graf von Wallenstein, Duke of Friedland, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, and Generalissimo of His Imperial Majesty's forces. No filthy ogre in an old gossip's tale told by the fire in the long winter nights had had so many vile deeds put to his account as this man. Saba herself, in deadly terror, had fled before his troops for weeks. Yet, it was more with curiosity than fear that she surveyed him, and the pastor, standing patiently but without hope beside her, smiled upon her tenderly for her simple courage.
Wallenstein was dishevelled. During the halt he had given his men five hours before, amid the trampled cornfields and the hacked orchards, he had taken no repose or refreshment. His black-enamelled field armour was dinted and marked, his cloak torn, his linen collar fouled. Round his smooth-shaven face the black hair hung tangled; but, beneath his lowering brows with the dissatisfied frown, his golden-hazel eyes sparkled with the fire of genius. There was a painful expression in the lines of his lips; in that tanned, lean, aquiline and implacable face, hated by so many, feared by so many more, was a certain grandeur and beauty, sinister and melancholy.
They set a table for him near where he sat and kicked the dwarf out of the way, an act of which he took no heed. He laid his broadsword in the window-place and taking his tablet, frowned over something that he found within. The three by the hearth believed he had forgotten them; but, when he looked up and saw the meal was spread, he beckoned to Saba to come across the room.
The wounded man caught at her skirts; she gently disengaged herself and obeyed the command of Wallenstein.
Looking at her across the top of the tablet which he still held open, Wallenstein asked her:
"Do you not wish your lover attended to? Why have you all remained there mute, watching me? There is everything in my camp that you can require."
"You said I was to remain, Sire."
"Yes, but not your two companions—they may go."
"They will not go without me," replied the girl simply. "We have been companions too long and he may be dying. If he is, I shall not see him again after to-night."
"I do not take him to be dying," said Wallenstein, "he but lacks attention."
He then spoke quietly to one of the soldiers who were bringing in the food, and ordered him to send up a surgeon to see to the wounded man.
"Does that pacify you, does that please you?" he asked Saba. "The old heretic, too, for your sake I will let him go. I will give them both a safe conduct to the Swedish lines. Is that enough?"
Saba moved forward as if about to kiss his hand, though it was still stained with blood, but the pastor was quicker and, catching her by the wrist, prevented her.
"You must not accept any of this," he said in a quick whisper. "We will take nothing, we will remain together."
Wallenstein frowned and waved the old man aside and bade the girl sit down. She did so. The room was smoky from the flaring resin torch which had been fastened in the doorway, though the pan with the pitch in it had been taken away the smell of it yet was in the air.
A surgeon entered and stooped over Graf Sylvain; the wounded youth, whose heart was throbbing violently, tried to thrust him aside, but his hands feebly slipped away and Wallenstein smiled to see him forced to submit to the ministrations of the Imperialist surgeon.
The girl sat at the table with Wallenstein and looked at the pastor.
"The Lord presseth a crown of thorns oft upon our brows."
Wallenstein laughed and asked the old man to eat: "I am particular about my cook."
There were pastries and meats and fruit, but the sight of them filled Saba with a rising nausea. She abhorred the colour of the wine and the sound of it as Wallenstein poured out into the long green glasses engraved with the double eagle. Martin Gernsheim came nearer to the window so that he could see beyond the dark figure of Wallenstein into the courtyard and the pinewoods, where the moonlight now showed clearly the bluish-black shapes and the rust-red boughs of the trees. The sutlers moved about with their pots and provisions among the soldiers; some of these ate riotously and others were already drowsy and falling among the baggage, all had an air as if they foresaw the coming day as without hope.
With fatigued and bent bodies the surgeons moved about, they continually replenished their pocket-flasks with brandy from casks.
Startled by the invasion of light the owls fled from the ruined portion of Karolsfeld into the depths of the wood, their sweeping wings brushed the folds of the floating standard, fringed from musket-fire.
Wallenstein sat in the window-niche against the half-fallen piece of tapestry he had pulled aside. When he saw that Saba would not eat, he took away the meat from in front of her and placed before her fruit—early pears and cherries just ripe.
Martin Gernsheim knew that it was his intention to keep the maiden with him and that he did not even concern himself to argue about this.
The wounded man on his straw groaned and writhed as the newly-bandaged wound flushed out red on the clean linen swathed across his chest. Saba endeavoured to eat the fruit. A light wind blew chill on her young bosom, the outline of which was softly visible beneath the silk gown.
The pastor spoke without passion and as one disgusted with the meanness of his words, which were so beneath the occasion. He pleaded with Wallenstein to allow the maiden to go with them; he spoke of her purity, of her noble birth, of her misfortunes, of her great love for young Sylvain Erlangen, lying there helpless.
"Prince, there sits a lovely and an innocent creature, as it might be in this chance of war your own sister, or your own wife."
Wallenstein did not answer, the pastor could see that he greatly desired to keep Saba with him. What could anyone say to move the firm determination of a man who had absolute power—a disappointed, a defeated, and a violent man?
"Prince," stammered Martin Gernsheim, "she is a good creature."
Wallenstein frowned, thrusting his forefinger between his gorget and his white, soiled linen collar.
A faint cloud, like the heavy breath of a sigh misting a glass, blurred the moon.
"Noble lady," said the pastor, "let us go. The great Wallenstein will not keep us, he will give us a safe conduct for all three."
The man of peace fixed his pale, watery but resolute eyes on the features of the man of war.
Wallenstein pressed his nether lip with his teeth until it was white; his hand, twitching, fumbled with his buckles. He said nothing and the pastor whispered to the maiden:
"Rise up and come with me."
Outside, one of the soldiers was playing a hymn-tune on a metal flute, and against this melody was the different rhythm of a drum, to which could be heard the tap of heavy boots of men dancing.
Wallenstein looked down, looked at his coat and the folds of his mantle, which were spotted with grease and blood, and handed the leaf that he had torn from his tablet to the pastor. It was a safe conduct for all three.
Martin Gernsheim did not venture to thank him, but Saba drew away so quickly and quietly that when Wallenstein raised his eyes her place was empty. He put his elbows upon the table and thrust his fingers into his hair, with his thumbs under his chin, to watch the three depart. Graf Sylvain, under the surgeon's direction, was helped up by two soldiers, but showed great weakness, upon which Wallenstein directed that a litter was to be brought for him.
Saba had put on her little coat of blue velvet with swansdown edging, which had once been so pretty but was now dirty and dishevelled. She pulled nervously at the pastor's sleeve and said:
"Shall I not thank him—shall I not go back?"
The pastor said, "No." His only anxiety was to get them quickly away from Karolsfeld. Glancing over his shoulder he had seen Wallenstein's face take on a dead look and his dark eyebrows lifted up over his eyes which smouldered with a diabolical fire.
"Leave the man to himself," he whispered, "and what has he done? If he had behaved otherwise it would have been the greatest shame to him and his Emperor."
And Sylvain on his litter murmured: "If we thank him it sets us very low."
So in silence they left Karolsfeld, going noiselessly down the shattered stairway because they had to follow the litter which was carried awkwardly round the corners.
To the pastor it seemed incredible that he had contrived to save the maiden from a man like Wallenstein. As he held and patted the cold little hand, he thought tenderly and with gratitude of those noble virgins in the old Christian story whom angelic protection had preserved immaculate.
When they reached the bottom of the stairs they heard a great shouting from above. The voice was strained and seemed to be that of some one in agony. There was a heavy ado and a running to and fro of Croats and Heyducks and a commotion which seemed like to split the dark shell of the castle. The soldiers set the wounded man down in the courtyard, where was a great medley of light and noise. Graf Sylvain implored the pastor to take Saba away..."I shall be well enough, I have his promise, do you get her out of this."
Here in the courtyard everything became a confusion of movement and sound, all had leapt to their feet, whilst the minor officers gave orders. Martin Gernsheim thought that possibly the Swedes were upon the Imperialists, but he discovered that the cause of all this confusion was the shouting commands that came from an upper window.
Wallenstein was leaning from the window of the room where they had left him; his black hair, his lose cravat blew out into the night breeze, which was then freshening, and the moon was reflected in his black armour. They could not hear what he said. His major-generals and his colonels came thundering down the stairs to enforce his commands. The soldiers seemed to understand very well. They brought out a great wheel, too large to be used for any but a fearful purpose.
"What are they going to do?" asked Saba.
A tall Transylvanian dragging up a coil of rope said:
"He is going to punish some prisoners, he is going to punish someone."
"Who are the prisoners?" gibbered the pastor.
"Oh, old man, we have a great many Swedes, Germans, deserters, and some citizens, too."
"And are these all to be put to death?" asked Saba.
"Certainly they are to be put to death."
"Some will be broken on the wheel, some will be hanged, some will have stones put round their necks and be thrown in the river; eh, girl, don't you know all that?"
"Why is this?" asked the pastor, "we left him sitting quietly."
The Transylvanian had passed on with his coil of rope and was helping his fellows to set up the wheel.
A moaning psalm rose from the lips of the Swedish prisoners who had glimpsed their fate.
Two Black Cuirassiers came out of the Castle dragging between them the dwarf. He was to be beheaded for being drunk in his master's presence.
"Take away Saba," groaned Graf Sylvain. The soldiers had placed his litter in a doorway.
The surgeon who had dressed the wound stood beside them.
"She is safe," he said. "Wallenstein has passed his word, and as for the other his wound protects him; for the rest what can you expect? The Swedes have given him a set-back, and that is the first time anyone can remember that of Wallenstein."
"This slaughter, this massacre," gasped the pastor, wiping his forehead and clasping his hands. "Can nothing be done?"
"Nothing," said the surgeon. "It is his mood. When he has been silent for long, you may be sure he will fall into a frenzy at the end of it. It is, perhaps, a convulsion or reaction—who knows?"
"Can you not reason with him, restrain him?"
"Anyone who attempts to do that will himself be sent to the wheel," said the surgeon; he added, in a confidential tone—"You see, he allowed the lady to go; now a woman, and one whom he fancies, can very often soothe him; but in this case—"
Saba overheard these words and understood them.
She saw the Swedish prisoners—hardy, shabby, small men, many with bleeding feet and foreheads being brought out, and they continued to sturdily sing their song of Protestant defiance, although their faces were blanched and distorted when they were brought near the gallows and the wheel being so hastily erected.
The pastor and the surgeon endeavoured to draw the girl to safety, to take her away into the pinewoods where she would see none of this frightful spectacle, and the sick man, with a frantic and feverish force, entreated her to escape.
Saba slipped out of their hands, returned to the Castle and forced her way up the staircase, which was then full of terrified men—soldiers, sutlers and camp servants; when they saw her pressing up some murmured, all seemed to make a way for her, to hustle her roughly forward and upward, passing her from hand to hand so that she scarcely touched the steps at all, bringing her at last to the door of Wallenstein's room.
A tall field-marshal, whose armour was covered with looped tassels and scarlet ribbons, said to her: "If you go into him you may change his mood."
Saba was alone among enemies. She hurried on and looked about her in the chamber lit by the flaring pitch-pine for Wallenstein; he stood there by the table, which still bore her plate with the untouched fruit. He had wrenched off his gorget and torn open his black taffeta cravat and soiled white linen collar, so that his neck was bare; he had pulled at his cuirass with a force which had broken the strap, so that it hung from one shoulder only. His sword was again slung up under his arm and, straddling with his hands on his hips, he gazed out like a madman, on the scene of the execution of his orders for death and torment.
Saba came up to him, her breast heaving. When he saw her his voice fell and he stared:
"I sent you away," he said gloomily.
She nodded, unable to speak.
"Why have you come back?" he insisted.
Unable to think of an apt reply, she said, foolishly:
"I was afraid of the forest, the dark and the shadows, and even the moonlight."
He did not hear what she said, but he was pleased and soothed by her beauty and gentleness, the soft lines of the silk gown, by the delicate fair face and disordered blonde hair. She sat down at the table and said, breathlessly:
"I am hungry, and fatigued."
She began to eat the pear and the cherries that he had given her before and which she had rejected.
Wallenstein looked at her and as he paused, the hubbub and commotion in the chamber was silenced, and, so long as any orders did not come down from that room, the hubbub and commotion in the castle and in the courtyard was silenced also. But there was still to be heard the tap of the hammers and the drag of the rope as gallows and wheel were put into place.
Saba finished the cherries, and Wallenstein still gazed at her. She then offered him a pear and asked him to cut it for her..."If it pleases you."
His eyelids lifted, showing a look of pleasure at this request.
Saba said, watching him:
"That is a fearful noise without. Can you not tell them to cease that we may have a little peace?"
He asked: "Have you come to stay with me?"
Saba said, "Yes."
"But what did the heretic priest say, and are you not the betrothed wife of Sylvain Erlangen?"
"Nevertheless, I have come to stay," she said steadily; as she took the pear from him their fingers touched. "Do you care for music, Prince? I have a guitar hidden in this house, and I can play on it well enough to beguile a tired man."
"Aye," he muttered, "I am a tired man tonight."
"Be done then," she said, "with all this noise and stir without."
He sat opposite to her at the table; she smiled, and as his convulsive nervous tension relaxed, she saw how sad the man was, how fatigued and tormented. In the faces of the men behind him she saw relief and gratitude. They glanced and signalled one to the other. They crept away, the confusion of sound diminished below. There was no longer the tap of hammer, the drag of rope, or the psalm of the prisoners; the cackle of the drunken dwarf rose in shrill glee.
Saba gravely finished eating her pear, and Wallenstein still regarded her. Then she rose and went to him and unfastened his cuirass, as she had learned to fasten and unfasten the cuirass of her lover Sylvain Erlangen, and laid it down in the window niche. He drank a little wine and ate a little bread, but never ceased to look at her. Presently he asked her where she kept the guitar.
She said, "I will fetch it." And when she rose he followed her, taking with him a burning lanthorn.
The guitar was in the turret chamber which she had used as a bedroom since she had hidden in Karolsfeld. Above this turret apartment now hung Wallenstein's standard and that of the double eagle. On her bed was a soldier's blanket, and in a broken goblet she had placed a bouquet of autumn daisies, strong white and yellow.
Wallenstein set the lanthorn on the table beside these. Saba took the guitar from a hook on the wall; one of the strings was broken. She mended it with steady fingers, her face was serious. Everything was by then silent and the moon going down behind the mountains, so that between this setting and the rising of the sun there would be a little space of dark.
Saba took off her small jacket trimmed with soiled swansdown and seated on the bed, began to play her guitar. She was very skilful in small fine arts. The soldier listened, pacing up and down the narrow room and as she played, told her of the last day and night—the ten hours' attack by the Swedes, the ten hours' falling back from Nürnberg. She learnt from what he said that he was a man who would venture to storm heaven and set his heel on hell, that he had been forced to draw away from the Swedes and their leader—a Protestant northern invader—he, the mighty Bohemian, the greatest soldier in the world! Not in precise words did he tell her this, she sensed it. She did not remind him that he was making this confession to one who was a Protestant and of his enemies.
The oil of the lanthorn failed, the flame flickered wearily from side to side. Wallenstein tried to guard this fleeting fire. Saba rested her soft bosom against the guitar. She said:
"It is a terrible thing, Prince, to have so much power. You spend your life among maimed and dying men, wounded limbs, ambulances, doctors, massacres...You march through towns in mourning, you tramp across the country bleeding to death..." Her voice faltered and grew stammering, she had no longer the strength or the courage to touch the strings of the guitar.
Wallenstein endeavoured to stay the flame in the lanthorn; he told her he was afraid of the dark. She was the first person to know this and he was put to many shifts and devices to keep a light in his pavilion or in his quarters.
He spoke that like a confession, bending low over the dying flame, which faintly illumined his tormented and sombre face—yes, afraid of the dark ever since he had been a small child and woken up screaming at the blackness round about him—the alive and terrible dark.
"There will be a little moon yet," she said in faltering, husky tones.
But he replied that the moon had gone behind the shoulder of the mountain and the thickly-placed pines.
"I am greatly to be pitied," he muttered, "more to be pitied than you or anyone." He was still absorbed in watching the sinking flame, and she crept nearer the door.
When it became utterly dark she surely could escape, even if it was only to dash herself to pieces from the ramparts, to fall perhaps, near where her lover lay muttering maledictions on her name for turning back. But when she had her hand on the door, the flame sank out suddenly and in the darkness she heard the soldier cry—
"Don't leave me!"
She stood still; first the complete blackness, then the faint grey square of the window, then that obscured by his black figure. She had no protection. She snatched up the goblet of daisies and held it against her bosom, for a second it formed a barrier between them, then fell, the flowers and the broken earthenware across their feet—her thin, small shoes, his thick and heavy boots.
He embraced her closely, she was consoled by the knowledge of his need of her, his fear of the dark.
In the courtyard among the soldiers the sick man moaned and languished on his litter. Now and then the surgeon attended to him and the pastor spoke words of consolation. Presently both became yawning and drowsy and slept. Only the young man lay wide awake, rigid, staring up at the black heavens.
In the morning the Imperialists departed.
Wallenstein was early in the saddle. He rode away with a great guard of Spanish and Italian generals, of field-marshals, colonels and glittering commanders, he had hung the Golden Fleece round his neck and there was a diamond in his hat. The Black Cuirassiers, on a whetstone in the courtyard, once more sharpened their swords, now worn so thin that they seemed like ribbons. Wallenstein looked back and up as his flag and the flag with the black eagles were taken down from the highest turret of Karolsfeld—the turret which was higher than the loftiest pine. The expression on his face was the same as it had been yesterday when he had glanced round at the cherry tree from which he had shot the little bird with his carbine—an expression more of a man tormented than of a man who has gratified a lust.
Saba de Hohendorff came down the turret stairs to find her lover. She had plaited up her hair, fastened the blue jacket with the soiled swansdown close to her chin, the rents made by the wild bushes in her gown were longer. She came to the sick man's litter. He turned away his head and as she bent over him, struck out with his hand at her, feebly. The pastor looked at her sorrowfully. The angels had not been able to protect her...the prisoners had been spared, but she had been sacrificed.
She appeared to have been weeping, her beauty was eclipsed; she seemed to the pastor altogether a lesser creature than she had been yesterday; she had nothing to suggest. He advised her to keep out of Graf Sylvain's sight, if she wished him to recover his health. He said he would pray for her soul.
Saba did not answer. She looked down at the face of the man who yesterday she had believed she loved, at the high cheekbones glazed with the scarlet of fever, at the cracked lips and the sunken eyes.
"He does not wish to speak to me?" she asked.
The pastor shook his head. "No, that you can understand." His tone was different from the tone he had used yesterday when he had called her "a noble lady."
Saba stood aside; she crept to the door and sat on the top step with her hands clasped round her knees. She saw a cart brought up and Graf Sylvain put in, and the pastor get in beside him. He did not look back at her. The surgeon had evidently arranged this accommodation. They went off through the forest to the Swedish lines, she supposed, to at least some adventure in which she would have no part.
Nearly all the army had departed, only a few stragglers remained. These were women, draggled and tawdry; old men and a few peasants with wine, beer and vegetables, which they hoped to sell to the soldiers.
Saba sitting apart, alone, watched a filthy old harridan making porridge over a fire of dried thistles and last year's fir cones. She was hungry, faint and cold. When the old woman had finished her mess she put a little of it in a wooden cup and, crossing the courtyard, offered it to Saba. The girl ate it as eagerly as a famished animal. The hag surveyed her with some compassion.
Sensing this pity in the bleared gaze bent upon her, Saba's tears again began to fall and were caught in the empty bowl which the old woman took away and wiped on her apron.
"You had better come with us," she suggested.
But Saba de Hohendorff continued to weep.
The trumpets of the Imperialist army rang out over Karolsfeld as the rearguard glittered down the mountain side.
A Florentine night-piece composed by Nicolo Antonio Porpora for His Serene Highness the Grand Duke Gian Felice of Florence. [ITALY, 18th Century.]
Everything inclines to its own conclusion."...The Virtuoso, Nicolo Antonio Porpora, seated lonely in his small chamber of the vast palace, found in the opening bars of his Serenata the theme that would bring it to an end...The work was a failure—a false composition—undertaken to order, with no heart in it...Where he should have evoked gaiety and voluptuous pleasure he had evoked melancholy and a sense of disillusion—the terror of fruition which is so near decay. He desired to write motets and masses, but the Grand Duke had ordered a serenata, and Porpora, for his livelihood, was forced to obey—had he been independent he would have composed the melodies which lay tranquil in his soul, but that, it seemed, could never be—the artist always at the service of a prince! He played and mused over the incomplete Serenata. "Rondo al Gran Duca"—what should that be—what did he know of the Grand Duke, after all? Nothing very admirable. Certainly he was gallant, and young, and not ill-looking. But the Virtuoso thought that his master's brains were not of the finest quality, he knew him to be idle and selfish, obstinate and extravagant, wilful and reckless; how put these qualities into music?
Porpora dropped his old violet-veined hands, which had become dry and delicate from making music, plucking at strings, touching keys, bows, stops, sighed in the warmth of the night and went to the window; as he leaned out and looked to the right and the left he could see the immense blank white façade of the palace, which alarmed him with its impressive aloof air of power; the night was of amazing beauty. "But the most amazing of all," thought the Virtuoso, "is that we find it wonderful. Ever since I have known anything I have known the moon, yet, on a night like this, I still marvel at it. Everything inclines to its own conclusion, and they say the moon is dying. How does the Grand Duke spend his nights, and for whom does he wish the Serenata written? It will be a cold composition—how will it go? Capriccio, I think—a loose affair without order or method, as the young man is himself..."
Porpora returned reluctantly and with an air of fatigue to the spinet; into the warm, breathless silence of the immense palace, into the voluptuous stillness of Florence—silent beneath the September moon—the halting, hesitant, contradictory notes of the Grand Duke's Serenata rose from beneath the fastidious fingers of the Virtuoso...Beauty, that was it, one must search for beauty, and there the night helped—the night, like the artist, ignored or transformed all that was vile or sordid, ugly or contemptible—the night, the hot moonlight night of September gave the illusion of immortality to loveliness, to passion and to art...Perhaps, inspired by the night and avoiding the fear of disillusion which touched his withering heart, the Virtuoso might yet compose something that had a breath of sublimity in it, even if it was not a masterpiece for a generous and reckless young prince. There was everything in the night, the transparency of water and the glitter of gems; the perfumes from the palace garden, the odours from those flowers which were crushed and bowed beneath the heat of the day might make a priest forget his book, a saint his meditation; these odours, stirring through the open window, mocked the music—the melody not yet created, the theme already faded and effete...
"It requires something grand and splendid," thought the Virtuoso in despair; "something that dazzles with ornament and is adorned with fancies; something that is easy to learn, too, sweet and yet austere. A young man should write for him—whatever I compose will have a note of irony through it, and that unkind satire which is a gibe at infirmity."
Yes, an amazing night, a lovely night—the moon enveloping all the city of Florence with a piercing and a poignant radiance! The rose, the oleander, the lily and the laurel, syringa and myrtle—pouring out this unseen libation of perfume—the overwhelming beauty of the night...enchantment. The feebleness of the music that faltered from the spinet was like the lament of humanity for its own weakness and inadequacy in the face of a night like this. What should one put into a serenata? Perhaps, when she turned, the pins—of gold or silver, would they be?—would fall through her loosened bronze-coloured hair, and strike on the alabaster tiles of her chamber—would that be a harmony one could reproduce? Or, if she ventured on to her balcony and leant against the rigid iron of the balustrade, what sound would the stiff taffetas of her dress make crushing against the sides of the window?
A bell lamented from Santa Maria dei Fiori. Porpora thought of the dome of the cathedral, where the moonlight would glisten gracefully on all those high plaques of coloured marble, faded rose, azure, amber, pearl; the clock of white silvered porcelain on the mantelpiece struck twelve times. The Virtuoso sighed, tore up his score, and returned to his labours—a Serenata for the Grand Duke...September and moonlight in Florence.
While the echo from the last stroke of the bell of Santa Maria dei Fiori lingered in the translucent air a man drew back into the shadows of the arcade of a silent palace on the bank of the Arno. He had lightly and cautiously closed the shadowed side-door behind him, and he now lightly and cautiously looked to right and left along the curved embankment with the low balustrade; his eyes were quick, his perceptions acute, and he at once observed a group of men lingering darkly in the distant strip of shadow which the moon, rising behind him, cast from the palace as far as the parapet which edged the yellow, noisy river. The darkness of this group of men showed that they were sombrely cloaked against observation; their stillness showed they waited for some one—possibly for him, Gian Felice, possibly for some one else; it would, in any case, be reckless to pass that way; he believed there were four or five of them. He paused, not alarmed or hesitant, but swiftly considering. He had been visiting Engracia on an errand of farewell; he was invaded by a sensation of futility and depression. If among these lurking enemies was her husband, or this was his arrangement, it would be very stupid to be killed for the sake of a mistress one had, with some difficulty, discarded—in any case, it would be detestable to be cast into the Arno and washed down through Pisa to those muddy flats where the winding river carried its refuse to the sea...Gian Felice therefore waited in the shadow, wondering whether they had perceived that he had left the palace. If they were not waiting for him and he declared himself, he might pass them without mischance, but such an action had a dull and undignified air. Gian Felice, keeping close to the flat front of the palace, moved away from where the group of assassins lurked, but he peered cautiously back over his shoulder, which was muffled by a dark cloak, and perceived that they, also cautiously and with a creeping, stealthy movement, were following him, waiting, no doubt, until some lonely spot was reached where his cries and struggles would not be heard. He believed that while he kept along the banks of the Arno they would not venture to attack, for at his first cry for help many of those lattices would be thrown open, lights and voices would break the drowsy moonlight, and, even if they succeeded in murdering him, it was not likely that they would escape pursuit; therefore, as long as he kept flat to the palace like that—so one with the shadows that if they essayed a shot they would have no good aim—he was safe enough; but, presently, the palaces ended and the embankment concluded sharply in the city walls and fortifications, a labyrinth of dark and intricate lanes leading to the viler quarters of the town.
Gian Felice, crouching like a cat in the shadow, grinned beneath his mask; he had an angry sense of being trapped. How often he had been warned of just such a situation as this, and how lightly and mockingly he had disregarded all such warnings! But now...folly and imprudence were all very amusing until something happened. On the other side of the hastening river the blackness of cypress trees rose into the pellucid silver of the sky and across the glittering white marble circle of a window in a marble church. Gian Felice thought of requiem masses and his own body being borne into the chancel, while organ and choir proclaimed an official regret. The sharp smell of lemon, the drowsy perfume of night-scented lilies coming from a courtyard enclosed behind a gilt-scrolled gate, gave him an intense desire for life. He was angry with himself for ever having been bored, or weary, or full of lassitude; if he escaped this present peril he would enjoy every minute of every hour of life, without scruple, remorse, regret, or hesitancy.
The assassins were gaining upon him, already he seemed to feel the muffling folds of a heavy cloak flung over his head, rendering all cries useless. Should he stop now and strike on one of those silent, locked doors, and demand assistance. But they were too close; before he could have made the gesture they would have been upon him.
Who could it be? Engracia's husband, was he so interested and so careful? It was well known that, despite his fifty years and a constitution enfeebled by all manner of excesses, he was more likely to be sighing beneath the balcony of another man's wife than protecting his own...Perhaps the affair was political, perhaps they mistook him for some one else. Gian Felice reached the dark angle of a column, he stood at the corner of a narrow lane where the massive buildings were only a foot or so apart, where the shadow was thick and solemn, for in these narrow alleys the light of the moon could not penetrate until directly overhead, and then even only as a line of light; with sardonic swiftness Gian Felice at this important corner turned and fled with rapid violence into the obscurity of the dark by-street. He was immediately followed by his pursuers. He could hear their footsteps on the cobbles, and, at the thought of what would happen if he fell or they overtook him, Gian Felice became profoundly vexed. This would, indeed, be a stupid extinction of a life that had been by no means without a pulse of delight—a life which had, perhaps, with a careful juxtaposition of events, led precisely to this moment—" All things inclined towards their own end." Yet the rhythm of his flight soothed his apprehensions, for he was a fine athlete, and even now the exercise of his strength and powers pleased him. He was being gained on, however, by his pursuers, and they were not so far away.
Sharp and clear amongst all those darkened windows in the dark palaces he saw a small lamp which hung in a high apartment between the leaves of a partially opened lattice. The rays of this light, like kindly indicating fingers, showed a balcony, where stone acanthus leaves supported pillars of red marble and wound downwards into the heavy coronals of caryatides who upheld the rich foliated porch above a deep-set door. Gian Felice, who began to hear the pulsating of his own blood hammering in his ears, was guided by that insistent light, mounted the nearest caryatid—a foot in the stone drapery, a foot in the crooked stone elbow, another on the crown of stone flowers, and so up on to the balcony. He could hear them below, almost upon him, panting, whispering. The light came from a small lamp hanging in bronze chains in the window-place; he turned it down and threw his cloak over it in one movement. When the pursuers came up to the palace where he lurked it was dark as the others and by no means to be distinguished from them; Gian Felice waited, motionless, save for a soft caress for a bruised hand. They had passed, but they were not satisfied, he heard them going to and fro in the narrow street beneath. Conscious of the indignity of his position he became angry and cast over in his mind a plan of revenge...Intolerable that he should thus be pursued through the streets of Florence, that his heart should be made to beat so high, his forehead become damp, his limbs to tremble! Insupportable! and he inwardly raged that he could not very easily discover who these pursuers were, or even if they knew him or not; for all he could guess they might have been hunting another man, for he could scarcely flatter himself that he was the only recipient of the favours of Engracia.
He turned into the room which was in darkness and then longed for some glimmer of the light which he had so impulsively extinguished; he dared not descend into the street by the same way he had ascended, for he believed that the assassins would be lingering there. How then, without a light or guide, find a way out of the palace which might be the residence of an enemy? Gian Felice moved, slightly hesitant, through a blackness so complete that even when his eyes became used to it he could distinguish nothing. Making his way delicately with outspread hands, careful as a tight-rope dancer, he avoided the furniture in the room and proceeded without noise. He hoped in this manner to find the door and so to get out on the stairs and leave the palace by some exit at the back; but his good fortune did not long attend him. His foot struck some slight object and a jangled wail of music arose. He had knocked against a guitar. A woman's sigh rose in a pant of terror from the dark—a woman's voice, startled from dreams, whispered in deep alarm:
"The light! where is the light?"
He heard her move, apparently she was searching for a flint and taper. Gian Felice had never found women among his enemies, but he was a little alarmed at the present situation; never before had he been so utterly in a woman's power. He judged it best to declare himself and not to wait for any revelation he might make when the light came.
"Signora," he whispered earnestly, cautiously approaching the direction of the voice. "Flying for my life from a number of assassins, I took refuge in your open window, and quenched your light to confuse my pursuers. If you will be so generous as to show me the way out of your house I shall always consider you my guardian angel."
Gian Felice felt this speech to be rather cold and formal, but surprise at the presence of a lady and doubt as to her appearance made him unable to better accomplish a compliment at a moment's notice. She was silent; he commended her for that—at least she would not betray him with a senseless clamour of useless alarm. He grasped what he knew must be one of the slender posts of her bed and waited for her answer to his appeal. When this came it was completely commonplace. The voice out of the dark said:
"Supposing my husband should come in?"
Gian Felice had heard that remark so often and in such different tones—of coquetry, alarm, invitation, and menace...
He sighed and replied civilly: "Precisely; therefore, may I entreat you to get me out of the house as quickly as possible?"
The unseen lady sighed also, and asked him what hour it was?
"I do not exactly know, Signora, I heard midnight strike when I first noticed I was pursued, and that cannot be more than half an hour ago."
"Plenty of time, then," said the lady's voice, but still in a sighing and melancholy fashion; "my husband is out on a most important affair, and it is not likely he will return much before the dawn. I am alone in the palace, save for a few servants—most of whom are devoted to me—"
"Then," replied Gian Felice, "I shall not much inconvenience you by asking you to assist me in my escape."
"Particularly," returned the voice, softly and sadly, "as I am myself escaping to-night."
"You were expecting a lover?" he asked regretfully, "and I have put out the light which was to have been his signal?"
"How you mistake me!" protested the voice, wistfully; "I have no lover, and that light which you extinguished illuminated a little image of the Mother of God."
"But," protested Gian Felice, confounded by this innocence, "you said that you were escaping tonight..."
"And so I am, I am going to a convent. I always had a religious inclination; and once I am in the convent the good Sisters will see that neither my husband's violence nor his money gets me out again."
"You are leaving the world?" said Gian Felice regretfully, "and I think your voice sounds charming—I believe you are a beautiful woman, and I am already more than half in love with you."
"I am quite pretty," conceded the voice tenderly. "I have that dark, thick, yellow hair that belongs to the ladies of Siena, my features are tolerable, and my eyes a pleasant blue—a colour which, as you know, is not very common in Italy. I was married at fifteen to a man of fifty-five, and I have been singularly unhappy. I am tormented by his causeless jealousy."
They always were, he knew that "causeless jealousy."...
"Is there no refuge besides the convent from a jealous husband?" protested Gian Felice. He walked along beside the bed and, delicately searching, found the lady's hand outside the coverlet. She did not resist, but allowed her fingers to lie in his.
"If you knew my whole story, I declare you would pity me," she said with another sigh, "but I have finished with this life. I have made all arrangements secretly through Jacinth, my woman. At two o'clock the convent gate by the fig tree will stand open, and I shall pass in; it will close behind me for ever."
"What caused you to take this most desperate resolution?" asked Gian Felice, caressing her hand, which he had found young, small and soft.
"My husband was so absurd as to become jealous of the Grand Duke."
"Jealous of the Grand Duke?" exclaimed Gian Felice. "Who then, are you?"
"Who then are you, should I not ask?" commanded the lady, slightly piqued.
"I am sorry that I spoke harshly," apologized Gian Felice humbly. "I am a gentleman of Naples, on a visit to Florence."
"Remain incognito, if you please," replied the lady indifferently, "I have done with things of this world, as I have said. My name is Dionisia. My husband is a provincial nobleman of some pretensions; perhaps it would be more prudent if I did not give you his title."
"Let us both be nameless," agreed Gian Felice, "such a proceeding appears to fit the complete darkness in which we meet and shall, no doubt, part. But, tell me, how is it possible that your husband should be jealous of you and the Grand Duke?"
"Why should it not be possible?" retorted the lady. "Not having seen me you cannot possibly judge whether I am unlikely to attract the attention of the Grand Duke—which is not so difficult, after all. He has been pleased, let me remind you, Signor, with lesser beauties than I have pretension to be—"
"As to that," replied Gian Felice, "I always thought that his taste was excellent. Where did you meet?"
"At the Opera," cried the lady; "we were one side of the theatre and he was the other, and my husband would have it that he was looking at me and signalling."
"Signalling at the Opera!" exclaimed Gian Felice.
"Oh, everybody knows that he has a code of signals: for instance, when he touches his cravat twice it means, May I send you a box of sweetmeats? When he twists one of his curls round his fingers it means, Will you be at home this evening?"
"Ah, does it, indeed?" said Gian Felice dubiously. "Everybody knows of this secret code?"
"Of course," said Dionisia, "such things soon get about, do they not? And my husband swore that he saw him making these signals to me."
"And I could swear," remarked Gian Felice, "that he never even noticed you."
"You cannot possibly swear any such thing until you have seen me," complained the lady, pulling her hand away from his, "and whether he did or not, it was quite sufficient for my husband to make my life a torment to me. And I have decided to leave the vanities and temptations of the world, to retire to a convent and there dedicate myself to the service of heaven."
"And did not the Grand Duke give any indication of rescuing you from your unfortunate position?"
"Alas," sighed the lady melodiously, from the dark, "I have neither seen nor heard anything of him since that day, and I fear that even if I took his fancy he soon forgot me. I take this mortification as a punishment for the sin I was guilty of in—"
"In what?" asked Gian Felice eagerly.
"In regarding him with too indulgent an eye," admitted the lady. "I confess that I could not help contrasting him, very favourably, with my husband—" then she added, on a note of sweet thoughtfulness, "and if I had allowed myself to love him, and if by any chance he should have—well, not loved, but amused himself with me, my heart would have broken in despair; therefore, it is better that I go into the convent."
Gian Felice tried again to find her hand on the silk coverlet. This time it escaped him. The darkness weighed on his eyelids and oppressed his heart.
"May I, at least," he asked, "escort you to the gate of the convent?"
She replied simply: "Yes, I will help you to get out of the house, and you may come as far as the convent gate if you wish; since you tell me you are a stranger here and in peril of your life I owe you just this much kindness, for I have heard that Florence is a very wicked city and full of sin, especially at night. My husband, himself—and, since you are a stranger to all of us, I may tell you this—is out on an evil errand."
"Ah, is he indeed?" asked Gian Felice, rising to his feet.
"That is why I have chosen to-night to escape, for I know he will be fully occupied. He betrayed himself to me by chance, and since then I have watched him, and come at the truth of a conspiracy."
"A conspiracy," repeated Gian Felice softly, but alert.
"He and a number of other gentlemen who have, they say, their grievances, are out to-night to assassinate the Grand Duke."
"Indeed they are!" exclaimed Gian Felice, "and you appear to take that very calmly, signora."
"I take it very calmly," replied the lady, and he felt that she smiled, "because I have taken steps to prevent it. This morning I sent a note to the palace, warning the Grand Duke of the conspiracy, telling him to remain indoors...It seems he was expected at a certain palace—how my husband found that out I don't know, but I suppose the Grand Duke was betrayed; in any case, the assassins will wait in vain."
Gian Felice was silent, nor did she speak—the darkness seemed to dissolve them into a dream in the heart of the other, so that they appeared to be a voice, a sigh, answering each to each; striving against this illusion, he said, sighing:
"Do not enter a convent, there must be happiness somewhere—"
Crescendo—fruition—completion!—the words seemed to hover in the dark...
"We are born with the seeds of death in us," whispered the lady's voice, "we never touch the utmost, nor achieve perfection—it is better to forego everything than to be content with a second best."
"But you could have loved the Grand Duke," said Gian Felice warmly, "and he, I am sure, could have loved you."
"He has loved too many," replied Dionisia, "and I have never loved at all—we are not fairly matched. Memory is better than a disillusion."
"Come," he said, moving towards the head of her bed, "we will escape together."
He heard her rise, he heard her move about in the dark room and take up the guitar, strike the strings and sing to it, so faintly that her murmur was but another added sweetness in the night...
"Why hast thou gone from me, my lost delight
Wilt thou return to me one summer night?
When my lone lattice high
Opés on a midnight sky—
Empty and bright!"
She passed him and he felt the lightest touch from her drapery; he heard a door open, and she begged him to wait for her in the corridor.
"You are safe, and I shall not be long before I join you."
Gian Felice waited in the outer greyness, for here a window opened on to the garden, which the moon's rays were already beginning to illuminate, rising above the blackness of the crowded palaces opposite. She joined him; he could discern nothing of her since she was cloaked and hooded with dark and decorous material—still a shade among shades was Dionisia; he followed her down the shallow stairs through the intermingled greynesses of many shadows, and down another sombre corridor, and out through a side door, which led into a by-street, where the lingering glooms of night still hovered before the ever-mounting moon.
"Let us make haste," whispered Dionisia from behind her mask, "in case somebody endeavours to overtake us."
They walked swiftly between the high palaces, which were all blank, shuttered, silent, and unlit. A peacock screamed from some distant pleasance, and from high, straight walls hung cascades of roses—all pallid, colourless in the moonlight; above these lofty walls showed the erect spears of cypress, the black boughs of chestnut and honeysuckle emitting its pungent nocturnal scent, brightly ringed by fireflies, which, gay and useless as disembodied joys, hovered wilfully in the moonshot air.
They came out into the Grand Piazza, in the centre of which stood the new monument to the Grand Duke, erected but a few months before; a huge figure in bronze on a rearing horse, raised on a massive plinth of stone; the flying curls, laurel wreath, Roman attire and raised arm of this authoritative and commanding potentate, colossal in size and grandly sweeping in outline, was harshly and blackly relieved against the pale moon-filled sky.
Gian Felice and Dionisia, small and frail in comparison with this gigantic bronze warrior, crept into the shadow of the plinth and waited, to ease their beating hearts and rest their trembling limbs, for they had come with great rapidity through many winding and cobbled streets, and she was faint with regret and he with expectancy.
"We are nearly there," whispered Dionisia. "How utterly lonely it is here in the great Piazza which, in the daytime, is so full of noise and people!"
An ancient beggar had fallen asleep at the base of the statue; a half-broken viol d'amore lay across his ragged knees; his old age, his dirt and his rags were all glorified by the moonlight. He appeared a figure of ivory and ashes; his white beard swept the broken instrument; he was like Time asleep over a ruined dream of great beauty, as he reposed, weary, on the hard stone in the hard shadow, while high above his head leapt magnificently into the air in petrified action the bronze horse and the bronze rider.
"It is the Grand Duke," whispered Dionisia, peering up, "how large and implacable and magnificent he looks!"
"In reality," smiled Gian Felice, "he is only an ordinary man like myself."
"How close here seems the perfume of myrtle and roses! I never realized how many flowers there were in the city! In the daytime one cannot smell them so easily!"
Gian Felice took Dionisia's hand as they stood together in their infinite loneliness in the middle of the empty piazza, ringed round by silent palaces, beneath the huge statue of the colossal figure, close beside the old man, asleep, with the broken viol d'amore; the peacocks shrilled faintly in the distance, protesting against the intensity of the stillness...
"Are you still wishful to go into a convent?" he asked, inclining towards her, tenderly putting back her hood, expecting a radiancy of fairness.
But she was masked; he lifted the lace of this from above her lips and kissed her; she kissed him in return, and yet the kiss fell somewhere between them, and was lost in the night as an unfolded blossom born in the darkness may fall from a high tree into a quick river and disappear, useless, no one ever knowing of its existence.
She caught his hand and pulled him away from the statue and the beggar; even while he thought that she was still indulging a caprice, a whim, she had drawn him to the cold gates of the convent, close by the city wall, where the great bastions rise up on the slope of the hill. Before them was the open gate and the fig tree, its large unpruned leaves square-cut in the light, which was now beginning to flush with the opal tints of dawn.
"I think no one has followed us, no one has observed us."
He asked her if she would not take off her mask; she shook her head and ran into the convent garden. Under the fig tree he saw two waiting nuns come forward, enfold her, enclose her, and lead her into the cloister..."Wilt thou not come back to me, my lost delight!..."
All the manifold trees of the city were stirring in the western breeze, the silver haze of the sky began to brighten with a warmer gold as Gian Felice returned to his palace—the immense black facade of which looked like a barrack, a prison, monstrous—a dwelling for giants.
The young man entered by a secret door with a secret key. He went noiselessly down a long, quiet corridor and paused at an open door of a chamber where Nicolo Antonio Porpora his Virtuoso, had fallen asleep across the spinet. Gian Felice entered the chamber and, for the first time since he had left Engracia's house, took off his mask, revealing a face of notorious beauty, where the eyebrows slanting towards the nose had the air of wings, and the lips mocked even at what they offered.
The old musician had drowsed into slumber across papers where scores had been crossed out, words underlined, words effaced..."Rondo al Gran Duca"—"Serenata for the Grand Duke"..."Capriccio!" "An amazing night! Why do we find it amazing?" "The fear of disillusion—the dread of completion."..."What we have never enjoyed we can never lose."..."Immortality lies in incompletion."..."All things incline towards their own end."...
Such the senseless scrawlings the Virtuoso had put across his music; Gian Felice read them and smiled. This was his Serenata—broken and unfinished; he thought of the old man asleep beneath the great bronze statue—Would not that be the real Serenata—for ever mute?
The Prince, smiling, woke the Virtuoso, who sprang up, startled and humiliated, adjusting his wig, clutching his papers.
"Ah, Your Serene Highness will forgive, will excuse—I have done nothing, written nothing; the heat, the moonlight—I strove to capture an illusion, it was not easy; Your Serene Highness will pardon?"
"I, too, have tried to capture an illusion," said the Grand Duke. "She did not know me, and I never saw her, and yet I think it was She—the dearest dear, the sweetest woman..."
"It is an enigma," sighed the Virtuoso, not understanding in the least.
"Therefore it can be put into melody," smiled the Grand Duke, "which is always an enigma—eh? You can have no definite statement in Melody, why, therefore, in Love?" Fingering the keyboard, he misquoted Dionisia: "What we have just missed is always ours—"
"An infinite regret is preferable to satiety," sighed Porpora, "and I can put none of these things into music. Your Serene Highness must get another Virtuoso...Scarlatti, perhaps, could have done it, or Jomelli?"
"She was extraordinarily simple," mused the Grand Duke, "she thought that I read my letters, that she had saved my life—I wonder which was hers out of that heap this morning they brought in with the chocolate! Ah, Porpora, there is another day beginning, and you have not finished my Serenata."
"I have slept, Serene Highness, I am refreshed, I will begin."
"Think of my effigy," smiled the Grand Duke mockingly, "on the bronze horse, in that new statue on the Grand Piazza, and see me now—spent, fatigued, disappointed—and combine the two, if you can, in your Rondo al Gran Duca."
"What was her name?" asked the Virtuoso.
"Perdita, for she is lost—and she is of the sweetness that must be lost."
"A moth flutters in out of the night. If you let it go the memory of it is yours; and, if you try to capture it, you have but a pinch of silver dust on your finger-tips."
The Virtuoso's relaxed hands stumbled over the keys of the spinet in an endeavour to recapture some of the themes he had thought of for his Serenata...
"If pins of gold and silver fell through her bronze-coloured hair and tinkled on the alabaster tiles..."
"If it was so dark that you could not see her," interrupted the Grand Duke, "and you heard her rise from her bed, and heard her sigh, and if in that darkness your foot struck against the guitar and it gave out a jangle of music, and if you heard the gates of a cloister, the grille of the convent parlour closing behind her, if you knew she had seen and loved you, yet met you again and did not know you, and you had never glimpsed her face—there is your Serenata, Porpora!"
He smiled sadly and pushed back the damp black curls from his forehead; he thought of the sleeping old man and the broken viol d'amore in the moonlit market-place beneath his own pompous statue; meanwhile he considered what a stupid tinkle Porpora was making on the spinet...
"The man is old and knows nothing."
While the Virtuoso, playing aimlessly, was reflecting: "The young man is a fool and his head is empty."
The Grand Duke yawned, the music ceased at that signal of tedium, and the sun came up over Florence.
Set for His Most Catholic Majesty King Philip of Spain on his arrival at Madrid. [SPAIN, 18th Century.]
Three young men came out on to the gilt gallery round the prow of the state galley; they found the prospect so charming and sumptuous that they had a great desire to take a draught of it; as they stared at the wide harbour and commanding citadel of Bordeaux, at the great crowd of decked French shipping, they first smiled and then giggled at each other, but furtively, for they had been very strictly brought up.
The pale, azure grey of the winter morning was a discreet background for the Bourbon gesture of challenging splendour and pomp.
The royal vessel on which the three young men (secretly impressed and outwardly stately) stood was towed by four barques painted blue interspersed with fleur de luce and golden crosses; each of these barques had a pilot and twenty-four oarsmen plying oars also blue, their gay habits were covered with silver lace; besides these there were other boats, one containing the numerous musicians, with their shining violins and haut-boys, who had played during the whole sea passage from Blaye; beyond came two small brigantines, each carrying six pieces of cannon which were continually firing and flying blue and silver flags.
"They are replying to our cannon," remarked the elder youth who was the King: all three listened and heard volleys from the fort artillery and musket shots from the mansions and castles on each side of the river.
The harbour behind the royal vessel was covered with shipping, so that one might have walked from shore to shore across the decks of a number of boats and sloops of all sorts. On many of these were being served, with the greatest diligence and nicety, an entertainment of fruits and other refreshments, which had been sent out by the magistrates of Bordeaux.
The young King, smiling excitedly, surveyed this glittering scene. He then watched the two boats moving alongside the royal vessel, one containing the rich provisions and the servants who were to prepare them; the other laden with contrivances for keeping the dainty victuals hot. This breakfast was served with so much dexterity and everything was so delicate and savoury that the King was charmed with existence.
"It is really, after all, very entertaining to be a great monarch," he sighed, with a slight air of relief.
Educated very severely, entirely under the eye of, and following the will of, that great and redoubtable potentate, his grandfather, the King of France, he had rather dreaded this journey to a strange people and the wearing of this alien crown, hitherto borne by the greatest enemies of his own country; but all this was very agreeable; his two young brothers, the Duc de Berri and the Duc de Burgogne, agreed with him that to be the centre figure of such a gorgeous spectacle was no mean situation.
"But you must remember," observed the Duc de Berri, who was shrewder than either of his brothers, "that we are yet in France, we know nothing of the conditions of Spain where you are to rule, Philippe."
But the young King, whose elegant manners covered a complete ignorance of everything save the power of Rome and the might of the Bourbons, replied gaily:
"Spain is the land of the Golden Fleece—everything is of precious metal and even, so I hear, the saucepans have diamonds in their handles!"
And then the three youths laughed together in their excitement.
So the royal ship arrived, preceded by splendid vessels and followed by a gorgeous display of three or four hundred shallops and boats laden with men, equipment, flags and trumpets. His Majesty and the Princes were again saluted by the discharge of cannon from the shipping, the forts and the batteries. There was a great concourse of people; nothing could have been louder than their shouts of welcome—louder even, Philippe thought, than the guns or the music.
"Long live the King! Long live the King of Spain!"
A violent fanfare of trumpets rent in the cold, pure air; the young man smiled with gratification as he stepped on to the wooden bridge lined with tapestry, where the magistrates of the town waited to receive him. This ingenious contrivance was set upon four wheels, one end was strongly attached to the royal ship, the other sloped towards the door of the royal coach.
Above all this was a canopy of cloth of tissue with a fringe of lace and gold; this, when the King had passed beneath it, was immediately taken down and given to his Majesty's footmen, who divided it amongst themselves with suppressed quarrelling (so that it might not be used on a less august occasion).
The King was conducted in the huge state coach to the Archbishop's palace; the swelling balconies, crowded with ladies, were adorned with floating tapestries, scarlet-hung scaffolds arranged along the streets were filled with cheering people, the roadways were all cleared, the shops shut, and the burghers under arms.
The high gate of the King's lodging was set with crowns of laurel, the arms of France and Spain, and hung with silk Persian cloths.
The magistrates of the town in robes of white satin and scarlet waited upon His Majesty. The three young French Princes began to feel slightly fatigued and squeamish, for the passage from Blaye to Bordeaux had been rough and they had been too excited to eat discreetly of the delicacies sent on board the ship.
However, the King, who had early learnt the niceties of etiquette, received with an agreeable smile the presents offered him by the magistrates of Bordeaux—four great baskets, in one of which were three dozen of white wax flambeaux, in another two quintels of all sorts of curious comfits in different painted boxes, and two others full of all manner of native wine in gold-stoppered bottles. They also presented to the King and the two Princes two great baskets of oysters, covered with seaweed. Then there were speeches and compliments, receptions, listening to harangues, the replying to them, and the whole day passing in a whirligig of glory, excitement and pomp. All day long twenty-four pieces of cannon that were placed on the walls were answered by the artillery of the citadel, and, by the time the fireworks were beginning to rise into the darkening sky, the three young men felt slightly sick from the continuous noise, the amount of sweetmeats and glasses of wine that they had been forced, in a manner of compliment, to endure; but the King, at least, did not admit his own discomfort. He was determined to enjoy every moment of what he must consider the sumptuous prologue to a great and glorious reign.
Philippe de Bourbon, Duc d'Anjou, a cadet of the great house of France, had suddenly, through a complication of politics, found himself on the throne of the Spanish Hapsburgs—a position for which he had never been trained and to which he had never aspired; slightly bewildered but definitely gratified by the beginning of his new glories, the young man resolved to be equal to all the lofty and heroic precepts with which his grandfather had regaled him since his accession to the throne of Spain.
King Philippe was an amiable and elegant young man, who practised all the virtues he knew, and it was not his fault if these were but a few.
His brothers told him that he had behaved very well during that exciting and bewildering day.
It was really very splendid in the streets of Bordeaux—"Almost," agreed the young Princes, "as splendid as in Paris, Marli, or Versailles."
In the paved courtyard of the Archbishop's high palace there were four fountains running with wine which splashed the bare breasts of stone nymphs, and illuminations and bonfires throughout the whole town, so that the facades of the churches and mansions were stained a leaping red; then, of course, there was the public supper and afterwards a ball for His Majesty, while many of the magistrates kept open table at which anyone might get their glut of sweet wines and pastries.
In purple and silver, powdered, perfumed and curled, His Majesty sat in the great hall in which, with so huge a press of people, the pages might scarce get round the tables with the meats.
The young King on his chair with arms, on a dais and under a canopy, felt himself a little giddy from the murmurs of the crowd and the continual salutes of the cannon answering each other without, the whizz of the fireworks, the lustre of the gleaming chandeliers, the melody of the violins, and the walls lined with mirrors that gave back a thousand radiances, the vivid gold and azure of the decorations, the extremely rich and glorious dresses of his attendants—all so dazzling that it was like venturing to stare into the face of the sun to look round the hall.
When he nervously glanced up he saw the inside of the pavilion above him hung throughout with crimson velvet edged with gold lace four fingers broad. Round the table was a great valance with a very deep fringe of knotted tinsel. There were twisted gilt banisters against the walls covered with velvet, with hangings weighted with gold fringe—everywhere he looked, gold, and an excess of splendour, the whole lighted with an infinite number of wax candles in Florentine copper sconces which, in their burning, gave out an acrid but voluptuous perfume. On the walls, too, of this great room were plaques and inscriptions, representing the glories of His Catholic Majesty and the arms of the several kingdoms which composed the Spanish monarchy.
The heat melted the sugar on the marzipan models of heroes, a monkey was choked with a silvered almond, behind the curtains of Utrecht velvet the lackeys dipped spoons into the custards and the pages sucked their fingers soaked in caramel; huge pineapples on filigree dishes overtopped goblets formed of ostrich eggs, and on the arras above the door a wreath of gigantic flowers surrounded a buskined huntress who pursued, in eternal chase, a pearl-coloured hart.
"I am a great King," murmured the dazed young man to himself, "I am the King of Spain and I know not what besides. It is truly a remarkable experience."
Then, in a little pause from the trumpets and kettledrums, one made him a speech; Philippe did not know by this time who spoke to him, but he mechanically leant forward and smiled in that amiable fashion which was already making him popular.
What was this pompous fellow, with his feathered hat in a fat hand and his trailing crimson robe and gold chain, saying?
The young King, with dutiful gratitude, strained his ears to listen.
"Your Majesty has just entered the first years of your youth, yet the fame of your virtues has penetrated to the extremest parts of the world. The exact integrity, that love of justice, that heroic humanity, that moderation, that advanced prudence, that sincerity, that inviolable fidelity which have gained the admiration of every one about you, have made your name adored in the most distant countries. A hundred different nations that compose one only—an immense Empire—What said I?...The entire world comes to the feet of your august Majesty's throne."
"He means me," thought the young King.
A slight blush crept into his cheek, not at the flattery of the pompous fellow at the foot of his throne, but at the faint smile which he fancied he had seen pass across the face of one of his governors—the old Duc de Noailles. Of course, if it had been a smile, it could not have been an ironic one; everybody declared him a great King.
The speaker, bowing lower, continued:
"Your Majesty is the greatest and most magnificent object that God has placed in the universe."
Philippe looked round the crowded room. He heard this sentiment generously applauded. He glanced at his brothers and saw no dissent in their candid eyes; all seemed to admire and acclaim him a mighty monarch.
It was rather difficult for him to conceive how he could be so great, since he could remember doing nothing save living exactly as his grandfather and the priests had directed him. But there it was.
There was a great deal more in the same style, but the young King, who was then convinced of his invincible greatness, found it unnecessary to listen. His giddiness and sense of sickness passed and he felt instead a buoyant exhilaration, an unnatural exultation he could not remember experiencing before, and he glanced with a lively interest past the bowed head of the speaker and round the heated faces of those crowding about the sumptuous overloaded table. He had, perhaps, drunk a little more of the potent wine of Bordeaux than he was aware of, or, the perpetual insidious strains of flattery had really turned his amiable head; for he began to believe that he was almost Jove himself, wielding a handful of lightning, seated on the highest peak of the heavens, and commanding a galaxy of gods and goddesses.
Precisely at this moment, when his head seemed to be in gilded clouds and his feet on a world composed of an immense circle of lapis lazuli studded with diamonds, a curious adventure befell the young King of Spain.
Among the many countenances there, all eagerly and slavishly turned towards him, he suddenly beheld one face only—a face that seemed so detached from the others that all in that proud, magnificent chamber seemed but a background; a young girl, one of the public admitted to this costly banquet, had contrived to come quite close to the throne, had slipped between the King's governors and guards and stood at the corner of the dais looking directly at his youthful Majesty. Gazing at her the young man forgot his recent godlike pose, forgot even that he was master of sixty-three kingdoms, that Holy Masses never ceased in his dominions, that the sun never deprived them of life, and that he had a right to command all strange nations...
All this preamble vanished from his mind and he stared directly at the young girl as a youth might stare at a maiden met by chance in the confused gaiety of a country fair.
She returned his glance without shame and her gaze seemed to pierce beyond the formal hollow flatteries of the moment, and to pay him a tribute beside which all these other homages were but brittle indeed.
She was about eighteen years of age, of a majestic, lively countenance, and very neatly dressed. Her long, closely-curling locks of a saffron yellow were her chief ornament, about her slender rounded waist was a little girdle, as if she were seldom far from domestic duties, but her hands were as fine as those of the ladies of Versailles who bathed continually in milk and essence of lilies; he could not have described her, but he found in her something charming which distinguished her from all others of her sex. He heard no words further of the magistrates' address, but, with his plumed hat on his knee and leaning forward a little from his high seat, he gazed at the maiden.
On a side table near the King's throne were lilac china baskets full of sweetmeats, Persian rose-leaves and Italian violet petals preserved in dyed sugar.
The girl wore a little silvered apron of Dresden silk, and, in the slight confusion into which she fell under the King's gaze, she had caught up the ends of this trifle to her bosom. The young man leant forward and without any further ceremony took the dish of sweetmeats and turned the comfits into her apron.
With modest blushes she received his present and retired into the crowd, the young King smiling on her and signifying by many tender glances the impression she had made upon his heart.
When she had withdrawn and the feast had come to an end the King asked his two brothers if they knew who the damsel was, and they replied she might be a lady of good quality, as there were many such among the press, but that she was no person of any distinction.
"I cannot understand," smiled the Duc de Berri, "why you, Philippe, are the least interested in this young person who seems to me of the most ordinary description."
But the King thoughtfully replied that this maiden was the only object he had ever seen in all his life who had moved him to the extraordinary emotion he now felt.
The Princes smiled and yawned; they were both drowsy and excited.
The King retired to the Archbishop's closet and, calling up a page who had stood near his throne, bade him inform himself of the name and abode of the lady to whom he had given the sweetmeats. At the same moment, feeling inspired, the young King wrote a note on gilt-edged paper perfumed with orris-root.
"Love reigns in the heart of kings as well as in those of their subjects, and the greatest monarch in the world glories in their submission to his empire. You may think it strange, my dear, that I am affected by the charm of your person, but I beg of you one hour's interview wherein I may show you the excess of my affection."
This he signed with a flourish and in Spanish fashion—"Félipe, Yo el Rey."
At the same moment he drew from his finger a very pure diamond, which had been his grandfather's last present to him; he gave this to the page and sent it with the note to the lady. In an hour the answer arrived, and the King had so far contrived to detach himself from the ceremony of the evening as to be able to receive it privately.
"I assure you that if love reigns over the hearts of kings, constancy, virtue and fidelity reign also among women as well as among queens. I thank you for the billet you have been pleased to give yourself the trouble of writing. Perhaps, great Prince, if I had been blest with the blood of queens you would not have noticed me. I cannot answer you but with sighs and regrets; nevertheless, sir, I would keep your fine diamond as a token of the precious regard with which it has pleased so great a monarch to honour me; though what I have to say to you cannot be what you expect, I am prepared to grant you immediately the interview you do me the honour to desire."
But here the young King felt himself at a loss.
He was very much under the observation and still felt under the dominion of his ancient governors, the Duc de Noailles, the Duc de Beauvilliers, the Marquis de Seignelai and the Marquis de Razilli. It was difficult for him to believe that though he was now undoubtedly a great king he could really do what he liked in his own time.
"We are leaving Bordeaux to-morrow," he sighed.
"But the lady has made an appointment for to-night, sire, and she lives not very far from this palace, in a little side street which has the prettiest garden in the world and where, even now in the winter, the laurels are quite glossy, and I smelt the perfume of Roman hyacinths coming from the glass-houses—"
"But how," said the King, "shall I get there? How contrive to escape the scrutiny of my guardians and gentlemen?"
The page had led a much freer existence than the King and had a great deal more experience. He pitied his sovereign, who had been deprived of most of the pleasures of life, and pointed out to him that it would be easy to pretend to retire to bed, being fatigued and overborne by the day, and then to rise and creep out to the rendezvous.
"She is, sire, a Mademoiselle de Sourdis, daughter of one of the gentlemen of the town, of no particular beauty or pretensions; but, since she has taken the fancy of Your Majesty—"
The King interrupted:
"This is more than fantasy, this is fate."
The page smiled respectfully, he thought the words meant the same thing.
So the King, with the help of the young Gascon, managed to excuse himself from all the formalities of the pageant and retired at last into his great bedchamber, which glittered on all sides with mirrors and lustres, and was hung with a hundred pompous mottoes and arms proclaiming Philippe V, after the King of France, the greatest king in the world.
When the last violins and kettledrums were silenced, the last fireworks spent, when, finally, the candelabra and wax-lights were extinguished in the banqueting hall, the tired serving-men asleep among the débris of the feast, when even the lap dogs had ceased yapping and the crimson parrots no longer screamed with excitement in their twisted cages, then the young King, wrapped in a dark velvet mantle, with a travelling mask on his face, a black peruke (stolen by the page from the toilet of one of his gentlemen) over his own blonde hair, crept down the cool marble stairs of the Archbishop's palace into the cold moonlit street of Bordeaux.
The young King discovered true beauty in this silver dark, this lovely night sky, these clear, mournful shadows, in the blank facades of the houses, and in the cold alien wind. His mind was cleared of all the gilded confusion of the gorgeous day; if he could no longer credit that he was a great King he at least was tolerably certain that he was a young man engaged upon a pleasant adventure.
The page went with him as far as the door of Mademoiselle de Sourdis' house.
On a thrice-repeated rap the lady herself admitted him and, taking him lightly by the hand, drew him into a small chamber which was more modest, humble and sweet than any chamber he had ever beheld. It seemed to him like a dolls' house for neatness, smallness, and prettiness. There was one little crystal lamp, which gave a light of singular purity, a fine, small fire on the hearth which glowed with a peculiar clarity, and the girl was dressed as he had observed her at the banquet, in a housewife's neat attire, with her keys at her waist. On the little tulip-wood table were his gift of sweetmeats and his offering of the diamond. She put both her hands in his when he had taken off his mantle and periwig, and looked at him earnestly.
This, and not the triumph of his progress, was faeryland to the King. He said:
"Mademoiselle, you have opened a little door for me on to something that I did not know existed."
He had not meant to say that, for he had many pretty set-pieces ready; but her earnest look had extorted from him an expression of the truth.
"Monsieur, that is exactly what I wished to do—open a little door for you."
"My dear, this is most extraordinary, that we should meet like this, speak like this. Who are you?"
"To me it is the most natural thing in the world. Do not you, sir, know the moment when it arrived?"
They sat together between the clear little fire and the bright little lamp. He could not remember ever feeling so safe or so familiar with anyone. He knew she would neither rebuke him, command him, nor fawn upon him, and this was rare indeed for the King of Spain to feel so at ease and so confident. For he was a man who had always been bidden and over-ruled, and he did not as yet know himself.
"Mademoiselle, why did you look at me like that at the banquet to-day?"
She answered on a beautiful note of compassion:
"Because, sir, I so pitied you, I was so deeply grieved for you."
"You pitied me—and I am the King! What do you mean—you pitied me?"
She said: "Ah, you were the King, sir, but now you are not."
"It is true," he replied gravely, "that I no longer feel master of sixty-three kingdoms, or Jove with his lightning, or—What was it that fellow said? The grandest object in the whole of the world.' But I feel as if I were something better than all that, and that is possibly the man you favour, for I am most extraordinarily enchanted by you."
"And I have never liked one better," she admitted. "We have, of course, been waiting for each other a great while. But, perhaps, we shall lose one another after all. You have not the courage, sir, to escape—"
"To escape!" repeated the young man, and the word fell with a fearful sound on his ear.
She looked at him most tenderly and the tears came into her kind hazel eyes. She had a beauty in her simplicity beyond any beauty which he had hitherto guessed at; to him she was the clue to the cypher which holds the secret of the world.
"Do not you see," she added earnestly, "that they make a fool of you? You are no more than their poor puppet, and, once you are in Spain, it will be as if you were in prison."
He laughed indulgently.
"These matters are beyond your feminine understanding. Let us discourse of what is within your comprehension, dear." And he made an eager movement to take her in his arms.
She put him by without ado.
"Did you not read my billet, sir, that I have something extraordinary to tell you? Well this is it, that you have with me a chance to escape. This is not a mere amorous interview. I believe I really love you, and I think that you really love me—yes, even after these few minutes...it is quite as extraordinary as that, you know—real love. And I thought that we might escape together."
King Philippe no longer laughed.
"Proceed. How could I escape with you?"
"If you never returned to the Archbishop's palace, and you and I went away together—I know where we could go—to a little farm where you might earn your living, dressing the vines and tilling the ground, and they would never think of looking for you there. I daresay we should be, as far as this world goes, extremely happy."
This was so amazing to the young man that he cast about in his mind for an explanation and fell on two of the crudest possible.
"You are bewitched or lunatic," he sighed regretfully and tenderly. "We cannot possibly understand each other, we are so differently placed."
"We are human beings, sir, and surely there should be something in common between us. We are young and man and woman, and surely it is not so strange if we should love one another."
"I came here to love you," replied the King simply.
"But not to escape with me, sir?"
"To escape with you! That is beyond all measure fantastical!"
"Love itself," said the girl, laying her hand lightly over her heart, "is beyond all measure fantastical, and that passion which calls itself love, if well-regulated, sober and logical, masquerades under a false name."
The young man flushed.
"No king ever had such a suggestion made to him."
"No king, perhaps, had so fortunate a chance," replied Mademoiselle de Sourdis. "Do you know Spain—do you know what is before you?"
"I know very well."
She insisted: "I am giving you the best of good advice, I am giving you a warning. Do not go on with them. Come with me—I offer life—and they? Death."
The King of Spain drew closer to the small clear fire, for he felt himself shivering. He could not believe that this maiden was of mortal flesh, but credited that she might be some celestial messenger, so composed and resolute, yet so tender and gentle she stood before him and put forward her plea; she spoke so ardently with the tears overbrimming her sweet eyes and running down her unprotected cheek. She was as one who pleads for more than mortal good and offers more than mortal bliss. He had come to find an entrancing, but a light and passing love, and had found himself entangled in something so vast and deep that he was both bewildered and exalted.
"You will come with me?" she urged, and knelt beside the chair whereon he sat shivering over the fire.
He, not looking at her, repeated his lesson: "I am the King of Spain, master of sixty-three countries, the grandest object on the face of the earth...What else? I have forgotten all they said. Of course, I am a great monarch."
"Alas!" she said, "some day you will know differently."
Without a blare of trumpets saluted the first colour of the dawn.
The King got to his feet.
"Hark!" he said proudly. "Fanfare for the King of Spain!"
Still kneeling at his feet, she answered:
"Some day you will hear it differently."
Her raised her up and kissed her hand; she was so encompassed with regret he felt for her no more passion.
"I will go back and think this was a dream," he said, sighing.
"A dream that you," she sighed also, "may sometimes for your pain remember."
And into his pocket she put his sweetmeats and his diamond.
"Will you come with me?" he said, without hope. "My dear, I will take you to Madrid—I will set you up in a palace, instead of you taking me to a cottage amid vineyards I will put you in a vast castle among the finest gardens in the world."
She gently shook her head.
"Then we must part, and I am sorry, sir, for I shall not be able to forget."
The King turned away. He put on his black peruke, his dark-coloured mantle, and closed the door on this strange adventure.
Mademoiselle de Sourdis remained in her humble, neat room, put out the lamp and raked over the fire, so that there was no longer light or warmth in her charming chamber.
When the King woke on the morrow he complained to his brothers of heavy dreams, and when the royal cavalcade left Bordeaux the King looked from the window of his coach of green leather at the blank facade of the little house in which he had passed last night that curious half hour.
From Bordeaux the King went to Bayonne, where His Majesty and the two Princes stayed two days, where they were received with all the magnificence and honour worthy of their great dignity, and thence they went to the Isle of Bidasso, where the great Treaty of the Pyrenees had been signed, and there the King must bid adieu to the two Princes, his brothers, and all his French gentlemen, and embark on a small ship from a canopied gangway built and adorned like the royal structure at Bordeaux.
At the ship's side he bade adieu to all his countrymen, accompanied by their mutual blessings and murmurs of regret. The Duc de Noailles must hand over His Majesty to the Duque de Harcourt that he be conducted to the Duque d'Alba and the Duque d'Ajen; the vessel was then towed by four shallops, which passed between the densely crowded strands of the French and Spanish territories. The air was filled with shouts and acclamations of joy. The King looked backwards with homesick longing at the lines of the French coast. Even his governors—the Duc de Noailles and the Duc de Beauvilliers—he regretted in that moment; and, as he presently stepped on to Spanish soil, he could not venture to think of Mademoiselle de Sourdis.
Of all his French gentlemen none was left him but the Gascon page; he, like the King, had been bred at Versailles, where everything was in abundance, and thought when he entered Spain he was going to the conquest of the Golden Fleece, that he would be received with unparalleled magnificence, with the daintiest dishes and the most delicious wines, but found instead he had come into a country as poor as it was proud, where the people were satisfied with an onion, or a clove garlick to flavour their diet; found they must bring their own beds to the inn, that they must make use of mules instead of horses, and that their servants must sleep on the cloak bags on the road. So great were the inconveniences and poverty of His Majesty's progress that the young page remarked that it put him in mind of the caravans that traverse the deserts of Arabia, for there were no refreshments to be had save what they carried with them.
The King kept up his spirits and remembered the directions of his grandfather. On his landing, he was encouraged to see the people run on all sides to see him; they lined the road throughout the country and fell upon their knees even in the dirtiest places as if God Himself had passed by.
The King, leaning from his coach window, threw among them handfuls of money, provided by King Louis, to receive in return their empty blessings as they scrambled for the louis d' ors among the dust.
It was cold and the wind high. The Spanish grandees were all silent and gloomy; they had with them a great number of priests, who insisted on the King attending to his devotions in public and private every day, and so the progress continued to Madrid. There he must alight from his coach to make his devotions in many churches, and then must go to the Palace of Buen Riposo, where the Captain of the Castle came to meet His Majesty in the garden of the Brazen Horse and presented him with the keys of the apartments, of the churches, of the dungeons.
The days passed in pompous addresses and flattering harangues—all, like the Spaniards, haughty, grave and serious; no one smiled or jested and the Mass bell scarcely ceased.
Palace and garden were grey and the clouds were low and blackish. The King, seeing no friend and no Frenchmen beyond the page about him, felt serious and grave also; his head ached and he ate little.
The grandees and the priests were continually instructing him.
"Sire, you must do this and that. Sire, this is the custom in Spain. Sire, it is so with the Kings of Spain. Sire, so you must be dressed, so you must behave, so you shall live, be wedded, die and be buried."
These great palaces of Spain were churches and cemeteries as well as habitations; he found that he walked continually above graves.
In the long, mournful, dark galleries, hung with tapestries of indigo, green, and blackish blue, were portraits of his predecessors, the Kings of Spain—Félipe and Carlos...one after another. This King of Spain died mad—and this, and this. The long, pale faces seemed to gibber at him from to canvasses; he detected in them a likeness to his own and hurried away.
The harangues and the compliments were over; life became infinitely monotonous, the days extraordinarily long. How weary it was! Though every one was stiff, it seemed as if they wished to loll and yawn; the black hangings were still in place for the late King.
"What shall I do?" said Philippe. "How shall I divert myself? These grey days are intolerable."
"There are Your Majesty's devotions," said Cardinal Portocarreo reprovingly.
"And when I am finished with my devotions?"
"There are various amusements for a King of Spain—sometimes there is an auto da fé, when we burn the heretics in the public square of Madrid. Then Your Majesty may hunt with the grandees and, for the rest, His late Majesty amused himself with spillikins."
The King looked at himself in many mirrors. He walked alone down gigantic corridors, scaled immense staircases; the paintings of emaciated saints, the tortured limbs of martyrs, glowed white and ghastly from the black canvasses on the high walls.
Priests, dark-cowled, sombre, muttered before altars that glittered with wavering scarlet and yellow lights. He had to attend the masses said before the tombs of his predecessors, and mark the epitaphs which noted how they had died—many young and all mad.
Yet His Majesty kept up his spirits, smiled, conversed, laughed after the manner of Versailles; but the grandees and the Cardinal told him the King of Spain should be more sedate in his deportment...they also informed him there was no money for ballets, masquerades, or even a French cook.
"I shall become used to this," he said to himself, "I shall soon discover how delightful it is to be a great King."
The French page reported that he had discovered a diversion for His Majesty.
A certain Spaniard had made a pleasant conceit for the King and desired to be admitted to His Majesty's presence to have the honour of showing him the strangest spectacle in the world.
"This, sire," said the page, "is really amusing."
"If he is amusing," said Philippe, "admit him at once."
So this person was borne before the King in the garden of the Brazen Horse; the wind moaned in high trees, the fountains were dry, the dovecotes empty.
The adventurer was carried on a chair, according to the mode of Paris. Before and behind the chair was fixed a pole having at one end a flag with a queer device of a dancer, and at the other a packet of poison which was labelled "Death." This fellow leapt from the chair and made an obeisance to the King. His coat was of all colours, like that of Arlequino, and hung about him in fantastic rags. His eyes were squinting and lively, his hair reddish, his features keen. He was large and stout, an extraordinary mimic, and very facetious, laughing at every word he spoke, and the King was delighted with him because he reminded him of France.
The King shivered in the garden and clenched his hands in his muff; he felt the damp ground through the thin soles of his shoes with the monstrous rosettes.
The Brazen Horse curvetted, gigantic, into the grey air; implacable appeared this animal of metal as if he trampled on all the shuddering aspirations of humanity.
Seeing His Majesty, surrounded by several grandees, standing under a pepper tree which as yet bore no leaves, the adventurer made several comical bows.
The King, diverted, asked him his business and the adventurer made his compliments to the King.
"Sire, I am come to present to Your Majesty a new wonder, unknown to the world till this day. Admire, sire, the marvel, the most famous of all shows, and remember, sire, that Your Majesty, though the greatest of Kings, has never seen anything so surprising."
After this address he took a cage from one of his porters; confined in it was a large rat.
The adventurer received this dainty beast in his hand and exposed it to view, and the King looked at it keenly.
The creature had had its tail cut off, so had lost the greater part of its ugliness; its ears had been pierced, and in them hung pendants of small pearls; it had a necklace adorned with ribbons of various colours. Fastened between its ears was a tiny peruke of a fair colour.
The adventurer now bade the porter stretch a cord from a small portable table that he had brought with him, to the chair in which he had been carried to the garden of the Brazen Horse, and on this he placed the rat, producing with a flourish his flageolet from his pocket; he bade His Majesty observe the great wonder he had just announced, and so began to play the flageolet, upon which the rat daintily raised itself on its hind legs and began to dance with much exactness upon the cord.
This greatly amused and charmed the ruler of Spain.
"Why," exclaimed the King, "surely it is known that these creatures are very fearful and put to flight at the least noise?"
"Yet, observe, sire," said the adventurer, who had caught this remark, "that I have made him so tame and familiar that no ape will caper on the rope with more boldness and assurance."
Then, playing again, he caused the rat to perform a succession of Spanish dances with the greatest precision and composure, the pearl pendants dangling in his ears, the ribbons fluttering from his necklace, and the fair peruke floating over his head.
The King and the page laughed, the Spanish grandees smiled; as the day darkened down the Brazen Horse appeared more monstrous in the twilight.
The performance over, the King would have rewarded the adventurer with fifty pistoles. The fellow refused, putting the rat back into his cage, and took his departure from the garden of the Brazen Horse, as he went playing softly upon his flageolet the little prologue for the rat's dance, which all that day rang in His Majesty's ears, so that he could eat no supper nor take any interest in his devotions, or the talk of politics with the Cardinal and his ministers.
When he was alone in his bedchamber that night he awoke and thought of Mademoiselle de Sourdis; such a supernatural terror possessed him that he rose from his high-canopied bed, crept softly among his sleeping gentlemen, and so came into an antechamber; the moonlight was full in this vast room and showed a hundred menacing figures from portraits, from tapestries, and from statues; they all appeared to grin and threaten the King of Spain.
He thought: "What did I see to-day, and who was the man in the many-coloured coat?"
As if forced by an invisible presence he turned and looked at himself in a gigantic mirror, where the moonlight lurked like an enemy, chill and bold. His fair hair hung crimped upon his shoulders, his bed-gown was tied with lace and ribbons at the neck, after the Spanish fashion he had been forced to wear a pearl in his right ear; his features were fine and small.
"Where had he seen such a figure before?"
The lady had offered him a chance to escape, he had not taken it; he had gone away.
He continued to stare into the mirror where the moonlight made the reflection of the room appear even more gigantic and dreadful than it was in sombre reality; and stared, lonely, until the dawn light replaced the moonlight.
"They cut off its tail, pierced its ears, adorned it, trained it to dance upon a rope, and, when it had satisfied them by this performance, they took it and put it back into a small cage in which it could scarcely move; without hope, its small eyes twinkled through the bars..."
The King put his fingers to his quivering lips. He saw in the mirror not himself, the great monarch, the master of sixty-three kingdoms, but the dancing rat, adorned for the gratification of its master.
"So, Your Majesty! Thus, Your Majesty! It is the custom of the Kings of Spain—Your Majesty will advance three steps—Your Majesty will bow—Your Majesty will put your hat on your knee—Your Majesty will return your hat to your head—Your Majesty will attend so many masses, listen to so many sermons, go so many times to confession..."
The King drew back from the mirror. On the table was an open miniature-case; the portrait showed a gaunt, frightened, plain girl of thirteen, whom all the painter's art had not been able to make beautiful—Marie Luise Gabrielle de Savoie, his future queen, the priests' choice—in all the opposite of the girl at Bordeaux, who had spoken to him as no woman would dare to speak again.
What would the rat be doing now? Peering through the bars of its cage—waiting, without hope, for the day and the signal to come out and dance upon the rope?
Mademoiselle de Sourdis had warned him; she had said, "Some day you will know."
The early trumpets sounded through the silent palace. His Majesty must rise for early devotions, according to custom...
Fanfare for the King of Spain.
But, to His shuddering Majesty, not daring to look into the mirror, the sound was exactly the same as the prologue on the adventurer's flageolet which had heralded the dance of the rat.
A Burletta performed before His Serene Highness the Margraf Karl Wilhelm of Baden-Dürlach and His Excellency the English Resident, Sir William Fowkes, in the theatre of the château at Karlsruhe, on the occasion of the birth of his grandson, Karl Frederic, afterwards first Grand Duke of Baden, in 1728. [ITALY, 18th Century.]
|MEZZETIN||Whom everybody knows.|
|FIRST TRAVELLER||Lord Charles, an English Nobleman.|
|SECOND TRAVELLER||The Rev. Theodosius Prose, D.D., his tutor.|
|FIRST LADY||Lucie (Mezzetin with domino and mask).|
|SECOND LADY||The Contessa Rosina, The Conte Rinaldo's lady.|
|HER HUSBAND||The Conte Rinaldo, of the Italian nobility (Mezzetin with mask)|
|SCENE||Italy. A Room in a lonely villa on the Brenta.|
|TIME||Midnight to Dawn. Summer.|
Window C. back curtained; light given by girandoles of candles. Door L. and entrance obscure in the shadows R. Near window a sofa, centre of stage a table and two chairs. By wall an old chest. As curtain rises enter MEZZETIN, one of the innumerable clowns of the Comedia Italiana. He wears brocade doublet and breeches, a loose cap of the same material, a circular cape which hangs below his hands, a large falling ruf and huge coloured spectacles. He cuts a caper in a self-absorbed manner and is closely followed by the Two TRAVELLERS. The first is young, elegant, in a rich travelling costume; the second is elderly and wears the garb of a clergyman of the Church of England of this period; while the first traveller appears delighted with everything, the second is in a very ill humour.
Mezzetin. [Turning and bowing to the travellers.] Here, Signori, you may take your entertainment. There is a. view over the river and presently there will be a moon. There will also be violins. Perhaps something else—an adventure—a surprise!
First T. Delightful! What a charming apartment!
Second T. Moonlight! Violins! But what of a supper and a bed?
Mezzetin. Ah, Signor, that comes afterwards.
Second T. Does it, indeed? But I, sir, have travelled twenty miles to-day in a vile coach, over a viler road; my bones are sore, my throat dry, my stomach empty.
First T. Sir, this is not an inn!
Second T. [Bitterly.] So I perceive, I wish it were. [To MEZZETIN.] What is this place?
Mezzetin. [With a caper.] We call it the Villa Malcontenta.
Second T. Discontented House! And a very good name, too, I'm sure. [Looking closely at MEZZETIN, speaking to FIRST T.] And now I see our guide in the clear light he is confoundedly queer-looking. A disreputable fellow, my lord, I dare swear. And I think it were better to pass the night in the coach on the roadside.
First T. [Taking of hat, mantle, etc.] It is all charming, and I intend to stay. [To MEZZETIN.] What is your name?
Second T. I thought as much. The outlandish creature is not even a Christian.
Mezzetin. What is a Christian?
Second T. Sir, my cloth is insulted! I refuse to stay. I dislike the place, I dislike this mountebank!
First T. On the contrary, my good doctor, I am enchanted with everything.
Mezzetin. [To SECOND T.] If you will have a little patience, perhaps I shall be able to enchant you, too.
Second T. None of your impudence, sir. I am a clergyman of the Church of England; this is an English nobleman of whom I am in charge, sir—in charge—morals, conduct, health and purse in my charge, sir.
First T. Confound it, doctor, if you are bear-leading me you need not rattle the chain. [To MEZZETIN.] Sir, you must think us uncommonly uncivil. You find us stranded on the road at midnight and you offer us hospitality, for which we have not yet thanked you.
Mezzetin. Do not do so, Signor, till the adventure is ended.
Second T. Sir, I do not intend the adventure to begin; perhaps those miserable postillions have mended the coach.
First T. No, they are all comfortably asleep on the roadside.
Second T. Then what of our baggage exposed in this thievish country?
First T. Never heed it—let us say good-bye to common sense for this one night, doctor.
Second T. Common sense has never yet been in your company, my lord, so no need to say good-bye to it, since we began travelling in Italy it has been nothing but folly after folly.
Mezzetin. What did you come to seek—in Italy?
Second T. Polish, sir, instruction, ruins, the classics, antiquities, cabinets of curiosities—
First T. I'm heaving sick at the mention of 'em,
Mezzetin. I saw a girl to-day in a coach.
Mezzetin. [Skipping up to him.] Ah, I perceive you have kept your eyes open, at least—now I can tell you—
Second T. [Indignantly drawing him away.] I'll not have it. [To MEZZETIN.] I've had enough trouble without you, sir. Quite enough of girls in coaches, or on balconies, or in gondolas—and His Grace's instructions are most explicit.
Mezzetin. Aha! [Pokes SECOND T. in the ribs.] Oho!
Second T. [Furious.] You're crazy, sir. This is a terrible country. In England you'd be shut up, sir, shut up, I repeat. His Grace said—' My dear Dr. Prose, I insist on no entanglements between my on and any of the frail sex.'
Mezzetin. I suppose his hands are full of his own affairs of that nature? Anyhow, I regard his remark as a mere formality.
First T. I never regarded it at all.
Mezzetin. Bravo! Now will you repose yourself and wait for the moon to rise?
First T. Willingly. [Throws himself on sofa.]
Second T. I refuse, sir, definitely, to wait for any moon. [To FIRST T.] My lord, I must insist—I must use my full authority. I am responsible for your safety. I mistrust this place, we may be murdered before the morning—or dead of hunger and fatigue.
Mezzetin. Neither the one nor the other, I dare promise you, Signor. As for your authority, here you have none. This is the Villa Malcontenta and I am Mezzetin.
Second T. You're an impudent rogue, and I'll have the whole affair reported to His Majesty's Resident in Venice—His Britannic Majesty, sir!
Mezzetin. Who is His Britannic Majesty? But I know who you are! Panteleone, eh? The dry old pedant—you have lost your beard which made you look like a goat. But you still have that expression of mingled malice and stupidity which is so amusing.
Second T. [Furious.] Sir, I am Theodosius Marryatt Prose, D.D.!
Mezzetin. You must think of a better joke than that, you know, Panteleone—people begin to get tired of your squeaky voice and your eternal hostility to youth and beauty. Everyone makes fun of you and laughs at you behind your back. You are so old and so silly.
[FIRST T. laughs from sofa.]
Second T. [With dignity.] My lord, I regret that the care I took in your education has resulted in failure—no well-bred gentleman would have laughed at such a vulgar tirade.
First T. Dear doctor, I regret my indiscretion. But I am resolved
to spend the night here. Who knows what my happen? After all, this tour is my
last chance of the romantic and absurd. When I return to England I shall
marry an heiress, drink port, sleep through your sermons, and so decorously
proceed, led by gout and apoplexy, to the family mausoleum. As for Mezzetin,
you must not regard him—we have entered a world of phantasy, let us
play our parts with spirit.
[He rises; SECOND T. sinks, fuming, into chair by table.] Mezzetin, who am I? What am I?
Mezzetin. [Studying him.] Young. There is your passport to all we have to offer. You are graceful, too, and have taken some care with your dress. When you gaze in the mirror you try to imagine what you look like to a woman. You are anxious to please. You are ready to believe anything that is agreeable. Yes, you will do very well for Florio or Crispino, or any of the young lovers who are always endeavouring to escape from Panteleone's spite.
Second T. [Taking snuff vigorously.] Disgusting, sir! Disgusting!
First T. I am grateful for your description. It is true I am eager for any adventure. Is there a lady in your Villa Malcontenta?
Second T. [Rising.] My lord!
Mezzetin. [Unheeding SECOND T.] There is. Awaiting precisely such a charming fellow as yourself. First T. Delightful, Mezzetin!
Second T. [Furious.] My lord, if you were a little younger, I'd give you a thrashing with the birch.
First T. [Smiling.] And if you were a little younger, reverend sir, I'd put up a play of fisticuffs that would keep you quiet a while, you old torment!
Mezzetin. [To audience.] You see, it is always the same
story. These two can never agree—one is eager for his reputation, the
other for his pleasure. But we really ought to be sorry for the old man, he
is hungry and, at his age, that is serious.
[While MEZZETIN is speaking the Two TRAVELLERS are regarding each other with defiance, the young man is smiling but the other is angry. MEZZETIN returns to them.] Signor
Panteleone, would you like some supper?
Second T. [Bitterly.] Sir, your most obliged. Considering I have not eaten since midday, and then was forced to content myself with a sickly mess of the devil knows what—
Mezzetin. You are hungry? Well, what would you like?
Second T. [Glaring.] Ham and eggs. An apple pudding with a good short crust. A pigeon pie. A tankard of ale and a pipe of Virginia. That is what I would like, sir. But I quite realize I am not in a civilized country. Therefore, bring what you have and be damned to you!
First T. [In affected horror.] Sir! Never have I heard you speak so profanely.
Second T. [The same.] Never have you seen me in so profane a situation. I consider your conduct abominable, my lord. Abominable!
Mezzetin. That is what you will say of the supper. All the same I will fetch it.
First T. And the lady?
Mezzetin. Never fear, signor, the lady is as impatient as you
[Exit into obscurity R.]
Second T. Really—well, really! My lord, I shall have to report this to His Grace. Under my very nose! Have you lost all sense of decorum?
First T. I hope so. We are in faeryland, I do believe.
Second T. I fear you have caught the malaria—you must be delirious. I wish I had not left the quinine in the coach.
First T. Why do you think I am out of my senses, good doctor?
Second T. Talking of faeryland! This draughty, decayed villa—damp, too, far too near the river, this tawdry furniture, that insolent ruffian, in his absurd dress! Faeryland! Well, I don't make much of our chances of a meal and a bed. There's no comfort—
First T. There's a lady.
Second T. Now, sir, now—I will not have it, do you hear? I will not. I've always drawn a line—
First T. Why, so have I—but not in the same place as you,
[Sounds of music without, a pleasant melody on strings.]
Ah, a heavenly harmony!
Second T. Heavenly indeed! Well, sir, if that is what we are to hear in heaven I for one shall be disgusted, sir, disgusted.
First T. [Curiously.] Dr. Prose, what is your idea of heaven?
Second T. An empty stomach, sir, makes a dull mind. I've no ideas on any subject whatever.
First T. [The same.] But you are so pious, so careful, so diligent at prayers, so exact in your behaviour, so circumspect in your speech—you forego all that is really agreeable, save a good meal now and then—in short, you lead a very miserable sort of life; now you must have some idea as to what you expect as a reward, sir?
Second T. You have never ventured to speak like this before, you must be bewitched.
First T. I hope I am. Come, sir, do you not expect a handsome acknowledgment from the Almighty for your good behaviour?
Second T. You, sir, are blasphemous. As for what I expect, I have no doubt I shall get it, no doubt at all, sir.
First T. Yes, yes, good doctor, but what is it? If this isn't heaven, tell me what is? Heaven—to be young, well, idle, in Italy, awaiting the unknown!
Second T. That's the devil of it, my good sir—the unknown may be a couple of cut-throats.
First T. You are spoiling the music. Hark, how sweet! In this country they cage nightingales.
Second T. I wish they caged lunatics! Then we should not have been plagued by this detestable Mezzetin fellow. [Catches hold of the young man.] I insist, my lord, that you leave this place, we will sleep on the road—in the coach—we will walk to Venice—
First T. If you please, you may, sir, but I shall remain.
[While they are struggling together enter MEZZETIN from L. bearing a tray with fruit, wine and food.]
Mezzetin. [To audience, placing tray on table centre.] There, you see, they can never agree. It is always the same. If I leave them for a moment they come to blows. I perceive I shall have a very fatiguing evening. [To TRAVELLERS.] Signor, you are served.
[The musicians play. The moon is rising. SECOND T. sinks exhausted into chair by the table and eyes the refreshment while straightening his wig.]
Second T. [With a groan.] And I was always certain of dying in my bed, with good Mrs. Vinegar—[to MEZZETIN]—my housekeeper, sir—making my possets.
First T. [Pouring wine.] Why forego this pious hope, sir?
Second T. I shall not survive the night. The food is probably poisoned—the wine drugged; and I swear the house is damp—I believe I have a palsy. [Groans.]
Mezzetin. [To FIRST T.] He is very tiresome. We shall have to get rid of him.
First T. [Drinking.] Where is the lady?
Second T. [To MEZZETIN.] I forbid the lady to appear! I forbid it! But should she appear, I shall know how to deal with her; it will not be the first time, sir, that I have been called upon to place before a straying sheep the terrors of eternity, the pangs of hell, the wrath of heaven, in all their most awful colours.
First T. Have something to eat and drink, sir—the wine is excellent.
Mezzetin. [Pressing food on him.] You have no idea how this will improve your spirits.
Second T. Improve my spirits! They require no support. I thank my Maker I am fortified by celestial comfort. But the body, sir, the body that faints, that fails. [Drinks.] Ah, if I am to have a vigil to-night against the powers of darkness, I must keep my strength up. [Drinks again.]
[The music ceases. FIRST T. leaves table and goes to MEZZETIN. SECOND T. absorbed in his meal takes no notice of them.]
First T. [To MEZZETIN, whispering.] Is it the lady I saw in the coach?
Mezzetin. [The same.] It is.
First T. Is it the lady who dropped the rose from the balcony at Pisa?
Mezzetin. It is.
First T. Is it the lady whose prayer-book I shared in the wayside church outside Florence?
Mezzetin. [More and more delighted.] It is!
First T. What shall I call her?
First T. The unknown! [Goes to table and picks up wine-glass.] Homage to the Unknown! [Drinks.]
Second T. [Eating steadily.] The cooking is not bad—for foreigners; the wine [drinks again]—passable—
First T. Why has the music ceased?
Mezzetin. You will hear it again presently. The musicians rest. The lady is preparing herself.
Second T. [Shaking his finger at MEZZETIN.] And so am I! [Drinks again.] I feel better, decidedly. Ready for [drinks again] Vice itself—herself, I should say.
First T. What shall we do with him?
Mezzetin. That is always the question—perhaps the lady will be able to manage him. I will fetch her. Second T. [Jovial.] Fetch her, sir! Bring in your straying sheep! [Drinks.]
First T. No, no, this will spoil everything. Where is my romance, my adventure, while he is here?
Mezzetin. [To audience.] I told you I should have trouble with them! However, I must do my best. [To FIRST T.] Have patience, and leave it all to me.
Second T. [Shaking bottle at him.] Aha, you rogue! You think to get the better of me, do you? Well, sir, you are mistaken. Here I am, quite comfortable, I shall not budge, I shall not sleep. I shall not allow this graceless youth out of my sight.
Mezzetin. Bravo! you play your part very well. I will go and fetch you some coffee to help keep you awake.
First T. [Imploringly.] Mezzetin, do not forsake me!
[MEZZETIN puts his finger on his lips and skips out L. FIRST T. turns despairingly to SECOND T., who continues drinking; he is now very genial, but none the less firm.]
Oh! sir, allow me this one night.
Second T. Tut, tut, sir. No nights, no mornings, evenings, or afternoons. Nothing, sir. I will return you to your respected father if no better for your travels, at least no worse. How difficult it is to keep from corruption in this godless age. [Drinks.] Now, when I was a young man—
First T. Yes, I know—but now I am young—
Second T. [Slightly tipsy.] I proved the hollowness of all vanities; believe me, my dear Charles, there is nothing in—any of 'em. Frauds! Shams!
First T. Sir, oh, I am sure that you are right, but I want to find out for myself.
Second T. Mustn't. Positively mustn't. Strictest orders—not to find out for self. [Drinks.] Find out what? That's what want to know.
First T. So do I. Now, dear Dr. Prose, if you were to stretch yourself on that sofa and just meditate a little...
Second T. Mustn't. Positively mustn't. Why? Want to find out. Ah, my dear Charles, you won't get round me.
First T. Sir, I implore you to drink yet another glass of this excellent wine.
Second T. Mustn't. Positively mustn't.
[Music heard again. Enter from L. a Lady in domino and mask—bauta Venetian fashion.]
First T. Ah, Incognita!
Second T. [Shaking his finger.] The strayed sheep! Ah, naughty, naughty!
[The LADY advances timidly. FIRST T. tries to snatch her hand, but she evades him.]
Lady. I am frightened. I fear I have undertaken too much.
First T. [Whispering.] Never mind the old man, we will get rid of him.
Lady. [Unheeding this.] Have I been too bold?
Second T. [Retaining his seat.] Much too bold. Now, listen to me, listen to good old Prose.
Lady. [Turning to SECOND T. anxiously.] Oh, sir, I am all attention.
Second T. Mustn't be naughty girl—positively mustn't—naughty girl won't go to heaven—good old heaven!
Lady. Alas! I am overwhelmed—I blush!
Second T. Ought to have blushed before. [Bracing himself.] Madam, your behaviour is—indiscreet, unbecoming, disgraceful.
Lady. Oh, into what a situation have the transports of love hurried me!
Second T. Alas! What confession do I hear? You love this wretched youth? You have pursued him, and, if guardian—poor old Prose—hadn't been faithful old dog—who knows? [Shakes bottle at her.] Begone! Avaunt! False siren, I conjure thee, depart! [Drinks from bottle.]
[The LADY flings herself at feet of SECOND T. FIRST T. watches from background.]
Lady. The purity of my passion must be my excuse.
Second T. Purity of what? Excuse for what? I said—begone!
Lady. Give me one kind word to treasure in my memory! We knew each other once.
Second T. [Startled.] The Devil!
Lady. No, your own Lucia!
Second T. Mine? But are you not pursuing old Charles here?
Lady. That insipid boy! No. Indeed you mock. I love you. And have long done so.
Second T. [Rising.] Mrs. Vinegar! Mrs. Vinegar! Bless my soul, I forgot—Mrs. Vinegar not here!
Lady. Who is this Signora Vinegar? Is she your beloved?
Second T. Madam, you confound me! My lord Charles, help!
First T. [In background.] Nay, sir, the adventure is to you, not to me, after all. I cannot interfere.
Lady. [Clasping SECOND T's knees.] Are you ice—marble?
Second T. Neither I merely uncomfortable. But what's uncomfortable? Mustn't complain.
Lady. Pray do not. Is it possible that you have forgotten Lucy? [Offers wine.] Come, drink again and you'll remember.
Second T. [Puzzled.] Lucy? [Drinks.] Not little Lucy Latimer of the Grange?
Lady. The same—we exchanged rings, vows and kisses—
Second T. My faith, so we did. I'd forgotten.
Lady. Oh, fie on your fidelity!
Second T. 'Tis so long ago.
Lady. It is yesterday.
Second T. Is it? You by the fireside with your knotting and I coming in out of the cold, and the smell of winter apples cooking for jelly, and your little sister Jane putting up the holly—is that yesterday?
Lady. Yes, indeed. And you were going to ask me to marry you—why did you not do so? We should have been so happy.
Second T. [Wistfully.] Should we, my dear? Why, so I thought. But we had no money. And I was selfish, I suppose. I like comfort, too. I went to London as tutor to a proud lord's whelp—and then the church...well, well, poor Lucy!
Lady. Have you never since felt the happiness you had when you used to visit me? You brought me a nosegay once.
Second T. [The same.] Why, so I did; why Lucy [turns to the LADY] and you remember the robin we used to feed and Scamp the dog?
Lady. Who used to go with us on our walks? And a little coral scarf I wore with ribbons to match?
Second T. [Eagerly.] Yes, yes, how could I ever have forgotten? But surely this is a very long time ago. [Sadly.] You are hooded and masked, but underneath your hair must be grey, like mine—your face lined, like mine—We dream, Lucy, we dream.
Lady. Why, then, wake?
Do you not hear? Is not that the melody I used to play on my spinet?
Second T. Indeed it is. Oh, Lucy, I haven't missed it all? [In a panic.] I am not old, it has not really gone by—lost? I am not an old pedant in Italy, but a youth in England.
Lady. You are young and I am Lucy—Come [raises him from chair]. You are tired from a long ride through the snow; you will rest on the sophy while I play to you; then supper and all the family! And we will arrange our marriage day.
[While speaking the LADY leads SECOND T. to sophy. He gets on to it, she puts cushions under his head.]
Second T. [Drowsily.] That is comfortable, Lucy, very comfortable. And how prettily the spinet sounds! Dear Lucy, do not forget to wake me in good time.
[He falls asleep. FIRST T. comes forward. The LADY throws of domino and mask and reveals MEZZETIN. Music ceases.]
First T. [Laughing softly.] I knew you from the first! Your figure is too angular, your voice too squeaky! And yet you deceived him.
Mezzetin. When you are as old as he is dreams will easily send you to sleep, too.
First T. [Looking down at SECOND T. asleep on sofa.] And so he had a Lucy! Who would have thought it?
Mezzetin. Who is there who has not had a Lucy? No nut so dry, Signor, that did not once hang green on a tree.
First T. But I hope you do not deal only in deceptions, I hope there really is a lady and that you do not intend to slip on another disguise and fool me.
Mezzetin. [To audience.] You notice how ungrateful he is! After all the trouble I have taken! Well, we shall see if I deserve his thanks or not. Having disposed of age, cynicism and decorum, we now proceed to the real matter of the night.
First T. [Clasping his hands.] And quickly, I hope!
Mezzetin. First, we must set the scene. Help me to turn the sofa so
that you are not disturbed by the slumbers of sleeping propriety.
[They turn sofa away from audience, or, if this is not practicable, put a screen about it, so that the sleeping tutor is hidden from audience.]
His wine was well-flavoured and he will certainly sleep till cockcrow. Now [goes to window and draws curtains] the moon has risen and really looks very pretty. [Gently claps his hands.] The music!
First T. And the lady?
Mezzetin. No, we are not ready yet. [Draws table to back, pulls out another couch from L.] Now, the scene is set. But what about you, Signor? You look a little English. Come, I must disguise you more in accordance with the humour of the night and the Villa Malcontenta.
[MEZZETIN opens a chest—or the ottoman couch—takes out a large gold lace ruff which he claps round FIRST T's neck; a gay satin coat which he makes him change for his travelling coat, and ties a large knot of ribbons on his sword. FIRST T's appearance now is that of one of the travellers in Watteau's "L'embarquement pour l'Ile de Cythere."]
First T. [During change of dress.] How shall I repay you for all this trouble you are taking, Mezzetin?
Mezzetin. By always believing in the impossible.
First T. Who are you, Mezzetin?
Mezzetin. [Handing him a mirror.] Behold yourself! Are you not transformed?
First T. [Looking at him.] Yes, I feel free of much that went with my clothes. I believe that I too could cut capers and sing; in short, I have become Arlequino waiting for Columbina—but who are you who work these miracles?
Mezzetin. I am Fantasy, day-dreaming and the unattainable. I beckon just round the corner where no one has been yet. I reside in those violet horizons which no man has reached. I am all you missed in the past and all that will evade you in the future. I am all that is incredible yet pursued, all that is never credited, yet longed for. Those who do not know me are no better than blind worms, but those who do know me are always tormented by unsatisfied desires.
First T. As I am tormented by you now. Where is the lady?
Mezzetin. I will fetch her. [To audience.] It is always the same! You see how impatient and unreasonable he is! Do not blame me if things go wrong. As you can observe, he looks quite charming and his manners are not bad. But he is very inexperienced and lacks tact and discretion. Something disagreeable will occur and I shall be called upon to put it right.
[MEZZETIN skips out R.]
First T. [Nervously, looking after MEZZETIN.] I wish I had
asked him for more advice. What does one do in such a situation? Who is she?
Am I the subject of a great lady's caprice or merely the victim of a jest on
the part of this clown? Is she perhaps married? I feel very uneasy and wish I
had taken another glass of wine.
[Goes to table now at back and looks for wine.]
The good doctor has drunk it all! Every bottle is empty. I hope I do not look a fool in this carnival attire. [Returns centre stage.] Ah, here she is! If only this had happened before how delightful it would be, but the first time one cannot help feeling nervous.
[Enter R. the LADY. She is young and pretty, wears a loose, dark silk mantle with sleeves. Her hair is unpowdered, she carries a small cluster of flowers, her manner is very serious.]
Lady. Good evening, traveller.
First T. Good evening, madam.
[They study each other with grave embarrassment.]
Lady. Who brought you here, stranger?
First T. Mezzetin.
Lady. He also brought me. Do you know why?
First T. I cannot answer that, madam.
Lady. Why has he brought us together in this room in the Villa Malcontenta—with music and the moon?
First T. [Yearningly.] Because we are young. And it is a summer night in Italy.
Lady. There are so many summer nights. And one is young so long. Do you like my flowers? When Mezzetin came to fetch me I was watering the plants on my balconies and I picked some of the blossoms to bring with me. In the moonlight they were silver. Here they appear gold.
First T. Like yourself, you are gold and silver both.
Lady. No, I am flesh and blood, like yourself. [approaches him.] I believe we must be about the same age. How old are you?
First T. I have forgotten.
Lady. Why, so have I, now I think of it.
First T. [The same, bending towards her.] Who are you, you lovely creature?
Lady. Mezzetin says you must call me the Unknown.
First T. Why, so I will.
Lady. And who are you?
First T. Let me also be unknown for to-night.
Lady. As you please. It does not really matter. [Gives him flowers.] Take these, already they begin to fade.
First T. No, no! With kisses I will revive them. [Kisses the flowers.]
Lady. They droop the more from your warm hands and lips.
Suddenly it is silent!
First T. [Putting flowers on couch L.] What does that mean, that we shall be disturbed?
Lady. Who is to disturb us? I am here alone, everyone has gone to a festival in the village.
First T. Even Mezzetin?
Lady. Yes, he has gone to join the merrymakers, he is never long in one place.
First T. Will you not take off your mantle, which is so dark and
[The LADY takes of mantle; she wears a sacque of pale flowered material. FIRST T. takes her hands.]
It was you I saw looking from the window of the coach?
Lady. Was it?
First T. [Eagerly.] I was idling on the bridge at Pisa, the coach swung by, it was lacquered green and the arms on the side had many quarterings; you peeped between the leather curtains, there was a spaniel with silver bells on your knee and beside you a man, ill-favoured, wearing a violet coat—Who was he?
Lady. I have forgotten.
First T. [Releasing her hands.] You forget too much! Lady. Everything. I am too young to have memories.
First T. No memories—of me?
Lady. You are in the present. While you are here I shall not forget you.
First T. But afterwards? When I go away, then will you forget?
Lady. How can I tell?
First T. [Mournfully.] Love should be immortal and never forgotten.
Lady. Love is—but you did not speak of him, but of yourself.
First T. You are not faithful?
Lady. To love. He has many aspects—to-night yours and mine; to-morrow, perhaps, who knows, that of another man for me and another woman for you.
First T. No, no, it has always been you! In the woods at home, in the sunbeams across my chamber wall, between the pages of my books at college—during these travels—always you [imploringly]. Have you had no such dreams of me?
Lady. You expect too much. The present moment is ours—and that only.
First T. You learned that philosophy from the rogue Mezzetin.
Lady. No, from experience.
First T. What have you experienced—at your age?
Lady. It is true that I am very young. It is also true that when I was at school I used to hear a few stories...Ah, well, I fear you are very pragmatical. While you talk of fidelity the clock is ticking.
First T. I always thought of you as constant, pure, noble...
Lady. There was one talked of virtue and did not see he stood upon a quicksand. As it swallowed him he lamented his wasted sermon. So time will swallow you up in the midst of your nice debates.
First T. [Vexed.] I feared I should make a fool of myself! Yet surely I do not offend by praising you. I said you were constant, pure, noble—
Lady. But did you say I had a neat ankle, a pretty wrist, a slim waist—nay, you have not even glanced at these details of my person.
First T. [Confused.] I did not presume—I may not venture—
Lady. Then if you may not presume or venture I had better return to watering my poor flowers. [Turns to R.] First T. [Eagerly.] Do not go! I will not be so stupid! You must forgive my awkwardness. I have been looking forward to this so long, I really hardly know what I am doing.
Lady. Do not think I am not sorry for you. Alas! it is difficult for any of us to be perfectly natural even in the most natural of situations.
First T. [Aside.] I am torn by a hundred doubts and fears! I fear to do the wrong thing—I fear still more to do nothing at all!
Lady. What are you whispering to yourself? You should know your part without rehearsal.
First T. How can I if I have never played it before?
Lady. But you say you have seen me so often; surely, then, you were ready with your style of behaviour when we met?
First T. [Aside.] I become more and more confused. Is she fresh from a convent—a lily grown in the shelter of a cypress tree? Or is she one of those dangerous creatures against whom I have so often been warned? I should like her wholly innocent—and yet I long to meet an accomplished woman of the world who will help me to overcome this confounded shyness.
Lady. I am not as beautiful as you expected? You are disappointed?
First T. [Eagerly.] Indeed, you are more beautiful [approaching]—now I see you close I discover a thousand graces—
Lady. And a thousand hesitations.
First T. The second the result of the first.
Lady. Perhaps you would prefer me in another costume?
[SECOND T. snores loudly.]
Oh, heavens, what is that?
First T. Only the sleeping protest of drugged propriety—my tutor, Dr. Prose, is slumbering on the sofa.
Lady. It was a jarring note.
First T. You were saying—about the costume? Truly, I think that sacque rather shapeless.
[The LADY unbuttons and takes of the sacque. She wears a lace undress beneath, showing much of her shape.]
Lady. [Turning about.] How is that?
First T. Adorable!
Lady. I hope that you are more at your ease. Sit down on this
[He does so on couch L.]
[Standing before him.] Who am I?
First T. I have ceased to care.
Lady. But, consider, I might be a great lady, who fell in love with you on the bridge at Pisa. I might be a maid in her mistress's clothes. I might be a girl whose parents are away, I might be a poor player acting a familiar part, I might be something worse than any of these with my eyes on your pocket-book, watch and rings.
First T. Incognita, I ask no questions.
Lady. [Seating herself beside him on the sofa.] Yet I had a thousand answers ready for you! [Taking his hand.] Yes, it is true we have met before, riding on a white camel across a desert, sharing a lilac sunshade in a garden of oleanders, seated on a balcony overlooking an island weighed to the water's edge with roses; or in the snow driving fast towards a castle with lights in the upper window...Ah, what drowsiness of sun or frost, what skies lavender with heat, purple with cold, what immortal trifles, fans, slippers, ruffles, ribbons, fruit and sweetmeats—[leaning towards him as he, absorbed in her words, leans towards her] Kisses, caresses, and the final ecstacies—darkness and sleep.
First T. [Entranced.] Take me with you on yet another journey to so joyous a destination.
Lady. Sometimes I sit seated among rosy clouds, a gold sceptre in my hand, a diadem of pearls on my brow, Tritons, Loves, surround me, blowing horns of coral; dwarf negroes lead up a white hippocampus, from a balustrade of the purest alabaster my lover looks down and offers me a paroquet; to escape him I mount a little car of opal drawn by peacocks. [She rises. FIRST T. springs after her.]
First T. But you cannot escape your lover—
Lady. [Holding him back.] While, sometimes I am only poor Brighella, the despised varlet—[she throws off the lace robe, and shows herself in the satin trousers and jacket of Pierrot or Brighella, but her neck and bosom are open on a quantity of ruffies]—whose business is to run your errands and make you laugh.
First T. [Ardent.] Laughter and errands are over for to-night—come to me—
Lady. [Still holding him of.] What will you give me if I do? I have already everything—youth, and a thousand dreams—
First T. [The same.] I will give you yet one more dream.
Lady. I do not want it. I am complete—a circlet of pearls exact to my throat, a crystal of wine full to the brim, a sheet of paper loaded with expressions of devotion and each different—who is more content than I?
First T. [The same.] Why then did you come here to torment me?
Lady. Ask the butterfly why it chooses the carnation instead of the syringa as a pausing place! I know not why I came, nor why I shall go.
First T. You are cruel. You say you want nothing, yet you take from me the little I have.
[Music again, very soft.]
Lady. They play for us—adagio—
First T. You torment me. [Catches hold of her.]
[She wrenches free. Music ceases.]
[She runs to sofa L., the FIRST T. after her. He catches her again.]
You see, you have made the music cease.
First T. [Triumphant.] What does the music matter? I have caught you. [Holds her closely.] Yes, and you shall not so easily go again!
Lady. You seem to have forgotten your timidity.
First T. [The same.] I have forgotten everything, as you advised me. I only remember that the present hour is ours.
Lady. And that I am the lady of the coach?
First T. [The same.] That is indifferent to me. The only thing I am sure of is that you are the lady I have in my arms—and it is the only thing that matters.
Lady. [Embracing him.] You have learnt your lesson very well. I love you. I always have loved you.
First T. [Draws her on to couch; they sit there close in each other's embrace.] And I love you. I always loved you.
Lady. There is no more to be said.
[They kiss. Enter L. a MASK. He is handsomely dressed, wears a huge old fashioned peruke and a mask fashioned like the visage of a wolf; he carries a cane and wears a sword. For a second he surveys the lovers, who do not perceive his cautious entry.]
The Mask. [To LADY.] I see I have timed my arrival
[The lovers start apart, the LADY shrieks.]
I missed you at the festival. Who is your companion?
Lady. Mercy! Pity! Forgiveness!
First T. [Dazed.] Who is this?
Lady. My husband.
The Mask. [Advancing.] Yes, Signor, her husband.
First T. [The same.] You are married?
Lady. [Vexed.] Of course. Why don't you say what is customary on these occasions?
First T. But I don't know what that is—
The Mask. A fool. Where is your taste, Rosina?
Lady. [To FIRST T.] You really must do something. Don't you see that this is serious? You must face him.
First T. [Rising.] I'll face anyone, of course. But I never knew of his existence—and nothing has happened to cause him any real vexation.
Lady. He never will believe that. I know his suspicious nature.
The Mask. And I know your complete untrustworthiness, Rosina. [To FIRST T.] Signor, who are you?
First T. [Defiant.] A traveller.
The Mask. [Touching his sword.] I shall be delighted to send you a stage further on your journey.
First T. What do you mean?
Lady. You will have to fight him, of course.
First T. Shall I? I've learnt to fence, but I never fought anyone before.
Lady. [Vexed.] Is there anything you have done before except ask questions?
First T. [Indignant.] You take this very coolly. I believe you deceived me, too.
The Mask. Of course she did. What did you think she was here for?
First T. [To LADY, simply.] Then you don't love me? And you are not the lady of the coach? And what about our dreams?
Lady. [Whispering to him.] I will answer all those questions when you have disposed of my husband.
The Mask. [Overhearing.] And I will answer them now. She does not love you. She is not the lady of the coach, for I never allow her out of the villa. As for dreams, she never has any; and, as for disposing of me [draws], that, madam, will not be so easy, for I am well used to this sort of affair, while I see that your lover is as green as grapes in June.
First T. [Bracing himself.] But I daresay I am able to give a good account of myself. [Flings of coat.] But, please take off your mask, you look really horrible.
The Mask. [Grim.] If you saw my face you would be further alarmed. [Takes of coat.] Know, Signor, that I am of the most ancient blood in Italy, and judge of my feelings when I see my wife, in this wanton attire, in the arms of a stray gallant!
First T. [Tears of the knot of ribbons from his sword and draws it.] My blood, sir, is not unworthy to satisfy you—
Lady. Yes, indeed, I am sure he is nobly born, and we did but kiss, my Rinaldo. Have mercy!
The Mask. None. I shall kill him—then deal with you. You see, I know the correct procedure in these cases.
First T. Indeed you appear to do so, while I am but a novice and cannot understand why this pleasant adventure must end in my death.
The Mask. [Fierce.] How did you enter my villa?
First T. The coach lost a wheel in a rut; while we were waiting on the road up came a fantastic fellow called Mezzetin—
The Mask. Aha! Mezzetin I I know him—he is a very great rogue.
First T. —and he invited me here.
The Mask. Well, no doubt of it, you must die. And do not delay. I am tired with the festival I have been attending.
First T. If you would take off your mask I should be obliged—you bewilder me.
The Mask. [Flourishing his sword.] These are excuses. Defend yourself.
Lady. [Who has slipped on her mantle.] Will you not give him, poor youth, five minutes to say his prayers and farewell to me?
The Mask. [Seating himself on couch.] Certainly. No one shall say I am ill bred. He may even kiss you—seeing no one will ever kiss you again. Have you ever thought of that, Rosina? One kiss must be the last kiss for all of us.
Lady. [Shuddering, to FIRST T.] He intends to kill us both!
First T. I will defend you to the utmost; but, alas! I have so little skill. I perceive now how rash it is to enter into these adventures unless one has had some experience.
Lady. [Approaching him.] He allows us one kiss. After all, this is an agreeable way to die. I shall never be old and you will never be surfeited. I shall never be ill, nor you infirm; when they lay us before the altar in the chapel everyone will say how fair we are and what a pity it was we were slain.
First T. Yes, there is consolation in that. And I shall not be mourned very much. My brother will take my place with the utmost elegance. I am too young to have any attachments or possessions of my own and therefore I shall forfeit nothing but dreams and hopes—and who knows but that these continue after death?
Lady. Yes, perhaps now we shall really ride a white hippocampus protected by a lilac parasol—I shall find a couch in the chalice of a lily and you will string for me pearls which an endless sea of eternal azure washes to your feet...Oh, I am happy! [Embraces him.]
First T. Then you do love me, after all? Then I am happy, too. Everything is endurable save disillusion.
The Mask. [Still seated on couch.] You are too young to know that.
First T. It is not knowledge, but intuition. When I thought this lady was a vulgar creature who had deceived me I was wretched, now I find she is glad to die with me I am serene again. I therefore conclude that anything is preferable to the misery of disenchantment.
The Mask. A pretty speech. Three of your minutes are gone and, if you wish to say any prayers—
First T. Prayers? To whom?
The Mask. That was what I was wondering. Your idols must be very inefficient or ill-paid, otherwise you would never be in this situation. But, perhaps you chance to be a Christian.
First T. I wonder—I never thought about it till now.
Lady. No, you are a pagan like myself. We return to the earth like blooms nipped by a late frost, fall and are trampled into the field to rise again; and we have been a thousand fanciful shapes, you and I—and shall be another thousand yet. I have embraced you in the mountains of the moon, in the grottos under the sea, on the clouds beyond the sunset, in twilight groves of Hades, on sweet violet paths of Parnassus—all the Muses assisted at our union, and Apollo played our marriage ode—on an iceberg, green, purple and glittering, we floated to extinction in the midnight of the North, and we were born again on an island of the South where the perfume of monstrous blossoms was so powerful that I fainted in your arms—
First T. [Enraptured, embracing her.] This is ecstasy, this is what I sought! I am satisfied! [They kiss.]
The Mask. [Rising.] Just as well. The five minutes are over.
[The lovers passionately and reluctantly part; the LADY retreats to the couch and the TRAVELLER faces his opponent; he takes of his ruff and fancy coat given him by MEZZETIN and recovers his sword, which he has laid aside to embrace the LADY. The MASK does not take of his coat; they make a few passes at each other.]
The Mask. You do not seem nervous.
First T. [Exalted.] On the contrary, I am delighted to die—Strike! I cannot fence with you.
The Mask. Oho! I am slain!
[He falls prone R. FIRST T. steps back amazed and horrified. The LADY rises with a shriek.]
First T. [In dismay.] Is it possible I have killed him? He does not stir! Quick, take off his mask and let us see if we can help him.
[The LADY runs to the prostrate MASK and bends over him.]
Lady. It is useless, he is dead. Your sword went right through him.
First T. [The same.] This is dreadful. I feel rather sick. Are you sure he is dead?
Lady. [Rising.] Quite sure. He does not breathe. Now we are alone again.
First T. [Throwing away his sword with a shudder.] But this is different; I never meant to kill him.
Lady. But remember that he was quite ready to kill you.
First T. This is his house—you are his wife.
Lady. No, his widow.
First T. I do not know what to do. I was quite prepared to die myself but not to kill someone else—what of our enchanted isles beyond the tomb?
Lady. We must postpone the visit.
First T. [In horror.] I shall be arrested—perhaps hanged—and I do not even know whom I have killed!
Lady. This is Italy and these accidents are not uncommon. I daresay I can put some gloss on it.
First T. You seem to take it very calmly; after all, he was your husband.
Lady. That is just why I do take it so calmly. Dear me, you really have a great deal to learn!
First T. You've changed again!
Lady. So have you.
First T. [In despair.] Nothing lasts! My moment of ecstasy when I thought we were going to die together has gone.
Lady. It would not have been a moment of ecstasy if it had stayed.
First T. What shall I do?
Lady. You talked of fidelity, but now it seems to me you have forgotten me—now, when you can love me without hindrance.
First T. [Doubtfully.] Oh yes, I must, no doubt, love you just the same. But this dead man has chilled my blood; it appears that after all I am a Christian, for I feel that I have committed a sin.
Lady. [Enticing him.] Commit another—with me—
First T. I have just killed your husband!
Lady. That is what makes it so easy. We shall not be interrupted.
[She draws the reluctant and bewildered TRAVELLER to window; he puts his head in his hands, his elbows on the sill. She watches him; THE MASK rises to a sitting position, takes of peruke and mask, revealing MEZZETIN.]
Mezzetin. [To audience.] You see what a variety of experiences I have given him—love, fear of death, killing a man, wooing a widow, and the knowledge that there is nothing in any of it I [Rises.] But he seems depressed. It is always the same. They are never satisfied.
[As the TRAVELLER remains in the window-place with his face hidden the LADY slips away from him, crosses stage, smiles at MEZZETIN and with her finger on her lips creeps out R. The TRAVELLER looks up, misses the LADY, comes centre stage and sees MEZZETIN, who cuts a caper.]
First T. [Amazed.] I had forgotten you—and yet you are the cause of all the mischief. Through you I have killed a man!
Mezzetin. [Pointing to wig and mask.] No, only a mask.
First T. [The same.] What, it was you? You dared to play a trick on me! I shall thrash you, rogue!
Mezzetin. [With clasped hands.] Tricks are all I can play. You would not punish me for following my profession, Signor?
First T. [Bitterly.] No, I should punish myself for being such a fool as not to know your profession. [Looking round.] Where is the lady?
Mezzetin. [With the same mock humility.] Pardon, my Signor. As you seemed to have lost interest in her she has gone.
First T. Who was she?
Mezzetin. Aha, my Signor, did you not drink homage to the Unknown? That is exactly who she is—la Incognita!
First T. [Angry.] Why did you interrupt me in that ridiculous disguise? I was being more successful than I expected—I was really getting very curious and excited—her kisses were delicious—when you came in—
Mezzetin. Exactly, I thought your emotions would be heightened by an interruption. If things go too smoothly they become dull, and that must be avoided at all costs. Besides, though that is a detail, she really is my wife.
First T. The wife of Mezzetin? Impossible! Your wife!
Mezzetin. Precisely. Why not? Do you think all the fools are bachelors? No, indeed, Mezzetin is a married man. [Capers.]
First T. [Furious.] I do not believe you—that lovely creature! I have had enough of your lies. [Snatches up his sword.] Where is she? You are intolerable.
Mezzetin. Oh, dear, oh, dear. What shall I do? I have made him
[Runs round stage, the TRAVELLER after him with drawn sword.]
This comes of interfering with Englishmen!
[He knocks into screen or couch R. and wakes SECOND T., whose head appears above couch.]
Second T. Mrs. Vinegar! Mrs. Vinegar! My slippers! My chocolate!
Mezzetin. [Shrilly.] Coming—coming!
Second T. The woman becomes intolerable! Where am I?
First T. [Clutching MEZZETIN by the collar, still very angry.] We've both been fooled, sir, by this wretched scoundrel here!
Mezzetin. [Struggling in his grip.] And if it is the last time you're lucky.
Second T. [Coming round the sofa, putting his wig and cravat straight.] Charles! My lord! What is this place? I feel confused—slightly giddy.
First T. [Throwing of MEZZETIN.] We have been the victims of a harlequinade.
Mezzetin. Well, if you are never the victims of anything worse, you're lucky again!
Second T. I recall—the broken coach...
First T. It must be mended by now.
Second T..,.and the Villa Malcontenta!
First T. [Still bitter.] Well-named!
Mezzetin. Now, what can I do to put him in a good humour again? It will soon be dawn and they must go on their way.
Second T. I believe I had a strange dream. About Lucy [checks himself]. 'Umph! I am afraid that the wine was not very good and that I drank a little too much of it.
First T. [Bitterly.] I drank scarcely a drop, and I too, had strange dreams.
Mezzetin. And yet neither of you feel grateful for these same dreams.
Second T. Now at least I feel extremely sober.
Mezzetin. Alas, what intoxication survives till the dawn? The rising sun always finds us sober—or asleep.
Second T. I remember this horrid fellow. So it is the dawn! [With sudden suspicion.] My lord, how have you spent the night?
First T. Not as I wished.
Second T. [Sternly.] You evade me.
First T. [Mournfully.] No, it was I who was evaded.
Mezzetin. [To SECOND T.] Signor, do not question the youth too closely, because he himself hardly knows what happened. You had better go on your way and think as you please on what has occurred.
Second T. I fear, sir, I must think as I don't please. [Sniffing.] There is a perfume in the air...[Eyeing FIRST T.]—a disorder in his looks—I accuse a petticoat!
Mezzetin. Take care, Signor, that a petticoat does not accuse you!
Second T. [Indignant.] Accuse me, sir—of what? Of what sin could a petticoat accuse me?
Mezzetin. Have you forgotten Lucy? Are you sure you had no companion in your strange dreams? That none of this perfume clings to your own person? That your looks are not disordered?
Second T. I remember nothing.
Mezzetin. Then be careful not to give yourself away. Silence is the only cure for a bad memory.
First T. [Putting on hat, etc.] Let us go, sir.
Second T. [Dubiously.] It certainly seems to be time we did so...My lord [with discretion], when we return to England this will be one of the episodes we shall forget.
First T. Only one? Do you intend others, then? I, for my part, want no more such experiences.
Mezzetin. Hark, they play an aubade to set you on your
[Music. The TRAVELLERS bow to MEZZETIN and exeunt, L.]
Young man, come back!
[FIRST T. turns back from L. MEZZETIN takes his hand. The LADY enters, R. MEZZETIN takes her hand.]
[To FIRST T.] You will see her again. Under many disguises.
[The LADY kisses her hand to FIRST T.]
Never bear her any ill will for she means no harm. And she is really very pretty.
First T. [Bewildered.] I do not know what to think!
Mezzetin. You must not think anything! It is all a matter of sentiment. Go on your way, Signor. [Waves him of L.]
First T. [Departing, to LADY.] I shall pursue you elsewhere!
[Exit L. MEZZETIN takes the LADY, still holding her hand, to the footlights, facing audience.]
Mezzetin. [To audience, while aubade is softly played.] The travellers, old and young, have gone. We remain and shall prepare our entertainment for the next wayfarers. It is wonderful what you can do with moonlight, wine, music and a few masks. Perhaps some day you will pay us a visit. We shall always be ready to receive you. We have welcomed so many travellers, if we are good for nothing else we offer them, at least, a trifling diversion. We give to the old memories, to the young hopes, to all another illusion either in the past or the future, and if our benefits are not very substantial we never destroy anything, not even the tenderest, sweetest falsehood. Perhaps you want to know who we are? We do not know ourselves. We have a thousand shapes, a thousand names. Yet I am always Mezzetin. And she is always—La Incognita. Good night and good morning both, for, if you are going home to bed, to us it is always the beginning of a new day.
[They bow. Music fades away.]
And Prince Clement Louis of Grafenberg-Freiwaldau,
Generalissimo of the Imperial Forces, in a summer pavilion outside Mons.
[SPANISH NETHERLANDS, 18th Century.]
"I cannot conceive of any situation from which a man of breeding could not extricate himself with credit."
"And yet Your Serene Highness has had your difficulties," replied the Duke of Glückstadt with as much irony as he dared show in the presence of his Commander-in-Chief.
"Precisely, my dear Duke—I've had my difficulties, but no one has known about them."
Prince Clement Louis of Grafenberg-Freiwaldau, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, Generalissimo of the Imperial Forces, gave his amiable smile which did not cover good nature but complete indifference. Agreeable to all and interested in none, he was not popular with the ruling princes of the Empire, and the French nobility who composed his staff; but as his cold severity and his ruthless imperiousness were disguised by social tact and exquisite breeding, they were none of them able to find any cause for offence. He was one of the most considerable commanders of the day, and well knew his value: he could have made all these subordinate gentlemen devoted to him if he had so wished; but he did not think this same devotion worth any trouble to gain. He worked with other weapons.
He then looked with his unruffled amiability at the Duke of Glückstadt, who plainly had something to say and did not know how to say it agreeably.
Prince Clement Louis rather suspected that thee young German prince had come as a spokesman for the other generals; something was wrong no doubt, and he was expected to set it right. It would be, likely enough, one of the usual petty jealousies between themselves. Prince Clement Louis never allowed such matters to disturb his serenity.
The Imperial Forces were besieging Mons, and these two gentlemen sat in a small farmhouse which was the Imperial Headquarters. It was evening of a ripe summer day, and Prince Clement Louis hoped that the young German prince would not be long in coming to whatever affair he had in hand; for he, the Generalissimo, had an appointment for supper with Madame Olshausen, who was established in a small château or summer pavilion, in the woods beyond the Imperial lines.
"I believe my dear Duke," he said pleasantly, "that you find yourself in one of these awkward situations that we were discussing. There has been some trouble, perhaps, with the French generals, or with the other German princes? If so, tell me plainly, and I will do my best to smooth matters over."
"Your Serene Highness always does that," replied the young German, "but I believe that this is a matter which even your tact will not so easily deal with."
"Are you speaking," asked the Prince suavely, "for yourself? Or do you come as a spokesman for the others?"
"As a spokesman for the others, Highness."
Prince Clement Louis smiled: he knew perfectly well why this young officer had been chosen to voice the complaint of his fellow-officers; he was at once the youngest of all the German princes who served the Imperial Eagle and the most agreeable to the Generalissimo. He was both sincere and ingenuous. He might venture far in delicate matters and give no offence. The others, arrogant and quarrelsome, would not be able to control themselves, and would damage their cause by the passion with which they put it forward.
Prince Clement Louis encouraged the young man with a brilliant look and smile. He really did not want to waste time; it was a delicious evening, and it was also two days since he had seen Madame Olshausen.
"Your Serene Highness knows, as well as we all know," said the young Duke hurriedly, "that there is a spy in the camp—some leakage of news of our plans."
"That has been discussed at the Council," replied the Generalissimo. "It can scarcely be any matter between my officers and myself."
"We believe that that is precisely what it is," replied the young man earnestly, "but it is very likely that Your Serene Highness will take what I am about to say extremely amiss."
"Then don't say it," replied Prince Clement Louis with smiling arrogance. "Let us waste no time, my dear Duke, on anything which is likely to cause trouble."
"Monseigneur," persisted the young Duke stubbornly, "there is a feeling of great discontent, of unrest, almost of panic among the men—among us, too, very definitely—about this question of the spy."
"You say the spy," replied Prince Clement Louis calmly, "but we do not know there is a spy: every possible investigation has been made, every possible precaution taken, and we have discovered nothing."
"But the ambush of the artillery train," replied the young man quickly, "and our surprise on the ramparts—the attack on the glacis——"
"No surprise at all, for the garrison was ready to meet us."
"A great many men were lost on both those occasions, Monseigneur."
"Both occasions may have been coincidences; we must consider the possibility of that. For myself, I was inclined to think there was a spy at work; but, as I say, after the most extensive investigations, nothing was discovered, and I cannot conceive yet, my dear Duke, quite what your mission is."
"You have ordered," replied the other, flushing thickly under his fair skin, "you have ordered, Monseigneur, a night attack on the citadel for to-morrow. If the enemy should be apprised of that..."
"It is quite impossible," interrupted Prince Clement Louis. "Unless you entertain the monstrous supposition that one of my officers himself is a traitor; but that is an idea I refuse to entertain."
"There is no need to entertain it!" exclaimed the young man with some heat, "that is the last thought which has entered into any of our minds, Monseigneur; but we have considered—there are these two things ahead: the night attack to-morrow, and Maréchal d'Orbitello coming up with the reinforcements which we so greatly need. Supposing, Monseigneur, he was met and cut to pieces, like the artillery train?"
"That also is impossible," replied the Generalissimo. "The secret has been sternly kept, even my secretaries know nothing about it; the code is in my own possession, the messages have gone to and fro with a man of the utmost reliability. There is no one beyond yourselves, Highness, who can know of these two plans of mine."
"If they fail," insisted the young Duke, rising impatiently and restlessly, "we, it seems to me, are likely to be slaughtered in our trenches. If there is some one in our camp who knows the weakness of our numbers, that twice reinforcements have been cut off, that we have lost what we did lose by that last surprise—which certainly, before God, sir, was a betrayal!—Maréchal d'Isenburg has only to come up from Brussels and annihilate us where we are. Our liaison has been interrupted and cut; there, too, is surely the work of a traitor!"
Prince Clement Louis looked steadily at the flushed and earnest young officer.
"I don't quite believe in this traitor of yours, my dear Duke," he replied. "Plans will go wrong: each case, as I say, may have been a matter of chance. I am forced to this conclusion, though I must say it seems unlikely; for there is no one whom I can possibly suspect...no one, indeed, to whose advantage it would be to betray me; for those who serve under me will find obviously their best advantage in supporting me."
"We think we know who has betrayed us," said the young Duke of Glückstadt, "and I have been sent here on the abominable errand of telling Your Highness whom this person is—or whom we think it is."
"Why 'abominable'?" demanded Prince Clement Louis haughtily. "Shall I not be rejoiced to know? Never have I had so many misfortunes as during this siege of Mons; and if you have been skilful enough to discover the author of them, why should it be any offence to me?"
The young Duke did not reply, but walked uneasily up and down the worn, flagged floor. The windows were open on the violet twilight, and the air was pleasant with the perfume of late hay brought from the low fields beyond the encampment.
Prince Clement Louis glanced at the old clock beside the kitchen stone. Madame Olshausen would be already expecting him; it was a pity that this boy could not come sooner to the point...
A small dim mirror, painted with a wreath of faded flowers on the frame, hung beneath the clock; and there Prince Clement Louis could see himself, in his ornate uniform, richly laced with knotted bullion, with his Orders sparkling over the lace on his breast, his long, stiff, military, powdered and pomaded curls, clasped with a diamond buckle, and his smooth, expressionless face, so handsome as to be almost effeminate.
He was not yet thirty, and had been commanding armies since he was eighteen; and, though he was so good looking and so amiable, with such a charming address and—when he chose—such caressing manners, his reputation was that of an unscrupulous, ruthless, arrogant and inflexible man. He had great gifts: those of energy, secrecy, indomitable courage; an unyielding fortitude and immutable patience. None of this showed in his appearance, which was splendid, superb and careful—almost to foppishness. He spent a great deal of the money that he made out of his successful campaigns and his various governments on lace and jewellery.
Now, while he was waiting for the young Duke to speak, he was arranging the ruffles at his wrists, which were tied by wide black ribbons, and had been pulled awry by his gauntlets, which he had just removed. He had been reviewing the cavalry, and there was a speck or so of dust on the bullion on his cuffs. This he flicked away, still waiting for the Duke of Glückstadt to speak.
"We think," stammered that young man at last, red in the face with passion and agitation, "that Madame Olshausen is the spy."
Prince Clement Louis stared at the speaker, without any change in his expression.
"She accompanies Your Highness everywhere. She would have ample opportunity to discover your secrets and to sell them," insisted the young German prince, "and those creatures can always be easily bought. It is the petition of all of us that Your Highness send away this woman."
"But of course," replied Prince Clement Louis, with a mild courtesy which veiled a limitless arrogance, "it is quite impossible for us, my dear Duke, to discuss my private affairs. That is my answer to you all; and now"—he rose—"as I have an appointment with Madame Olshausen—"
"I've no doubt, Monseigneur," interrupted the young German obstinately. "And how do we know she will not, to-night, get everything out of you about the attack, about the reinforcements coming up—if she doesn't know it already! There have been a good many lives lost through this spy, Monseigneur, and we do not intend to stand by and see any more sacrificed. We demand that this woman be sent away, or at least arrested or watched."
"Who is in this?" demanded Clement Louis. "All of you?"
"All of us, Monseigneur. It is the common opinion of all of us, and it is noised abroad in the camp, even among the soldiers."
"And yet it never occurred to me," remarked Prince Clement Louis coldly, "and certainly I am better acquainted with the lady than any of you could possibly be."
The young Duke wanted to reply—but dared not: "But you sir, are obsessed, infatuate."
"You have introduced," continued the Generalissimo smoothly, "a subject that—as I said at first—I could not possibly discuss with anyone. If I were to take what you say seriously, I should have to be offended, and treat your interference as insolence; and I have no wish to do that. You are either all of you deceived by some foolish gossip of the camp, or you wish to insult me. Whichever case it may be, I shall take no notice of your action, it would be beneath me to do so."
"And we, I suppose, Monseigneur," replied the young man hotly, "are to wait here meekly and see all our plans go wrong—perhaps be murdered in our tents!"
Prince Clement Louis picked up his gloves from the plain kitchen table.
"Believe me," he smiled, "there is no danger whatever of that. For your own satisfaction I will tell you—and you may repeat it to your fellow-officers—that the woman is a fool, and absolutely incapable of what you suspect her; whoever this spy is, if there is a spy, it is some one of education and intelligence. Madame Olshausen knows no language but German; she can scarcely read or write; and she has just sufficient brains to keep out of all serious affairs. This is for your own satisfaction—to your formal embassy I have no formal answer; I absolutely decline to discuss my own affairs."
The calm assurance with which he spoke almost shook the deep conviction of the young man. Was it possible that they had, after all, made a mistake? That all the little shreds and scraps of evidence which, put together, had pointed to Madame Olshausen as the spy, were wrong? And yet there were several of them, older, wiser, more experienced men than himself, who had assured him that it was she and no other, and that only the infatuation of Prince Clement Louis for his mistress prevented him from seeing what she really was—a spy in the pay of the English and Hanoverians.
Hesitating, frowning, the young Duke said:
"It was damned odd about that artillery train, and damned odd about the assault upon the glacis. If it happens again—"
"It was," agreed the Generalissimo calmly, "as you remark, Highness, damned odd...But I don't think it will happen again. It is possible, of course, that we have some traitor at work, though I've combed the camp pretty thoroughly."
"Does your Highness know," persisted the young Duke doggedly, "the antecedents of Madame Olshausen? You took her from the stage when she was playing in the Italian comedy, under the name of Minetta; but who was she before that? Ask her, Monseigneur, if she was ever at the Elector of Hanover's Court, under the name of Madame Aurora Frey?"
"The woman has never been at any Court," replied Prince Clement Louis contemptuously, "and are you telling me that you have been investigating her career?"
"We have had to take measures of self-defence," replied the young man sullenly. "It was not until we had some very clear and good grounds to go upon that we ventured to approach Your Highness. We can, if you wish, put all our evidence before you; and we would appeal to you," he added with dignity, "to put your officers, your men and your Emperor before this woman."
"I have never," replied Prince Clement Louis, "had any creature attached to me who would be likely to be the least danger to any cause. Please credit me with sufficient sense to know an intriguing woman of the world from a poor actress of the Comedy. There is really no more to be said."
"There is a great deal more to be said," protested the young Duke, "but I understand from Your Serene Highness that it cannot be said without offence."
"You are to understand exactly that," replied the Generalissimo. "I bid you good evening, or I shall be late for my appointment."
"With Madame Olshausen?"
"Precisely, with Madame Olshausen."
"And what am I to tell the others?"
"What you please, my dear Duke. You have heard what I have said, and you can gauge my sentiments and attitude. Any interference of the nature you suggest is grotesque. Do not force me to have to tell you all that it is dangerous as well."
"You carry it with a very high hand, Monseigneur. It is our lives that hang on this matter."
"And my honour; one will be regarded as jealously as the other. Good evening, Highness!" And Prince Clement Louis picked up his hat and left the farm, looking back with smiling malice at the discomfited and angry figure of the young Duke. His Serene Highness, with a light-coloured summer cloak over his gay uniform, rode rapidly to the pretty little pavilion where he had installed Madame Olshausen.
For six months he had taken this woman with him everywhere, and he could not remember any connection of the kind which had endured so long. He utterly repudiated the idea that she in any way obsessed or infatuated him; but she certainly was charming, and he found in her company a satisfaction that he had never yet discovered in female society. Nothing could have amazed him more than what the young Duke of Glückstadt had just said to him. Practised as he was in social tact, it had been difficult for him to conceal this complete surprise, for Madame Olshausen, whom he had first seen dancing in the Italian comedy in Vienna, was the most inoffensive and foolish of creatures, and, as he had himself just declared, was totally illiterate—a peasant-girl with no training beyond that of the circus and the theatre; indeed, her complete ignorance of all worldly affairs had been one of her main attractions for him; who was always weighed with heavy responsibilities, faced by grave issues, and involved in many ramifications of statecraft. With her there had always been relief and pleasure; in her company life went lazily. She had an air of innocence and freshness, and in gratitude for her gift of lovely gaiety he had solicited from the Emperor a barony for his favourite. For the past three months she had held Olshausen and its important revenues.
How lunatic were those men to suppose that he could possibly have thus favoured and protected a woman who was in the least likely to betray him! He was almost as sure of her loyalty as he was of her fidelity; but not quite: he was always prepared for any woman to betray him with another man, though so far he was not aware that this had happened—largely, he supposed, because there were few men who had qualities to render them formidable as rivals. He had always been the most powerful and the most charming personality of any society in which he mingled. Any woman of taste or judgment was not likely to forsake him; but he always allowed for caprice. If he had been told—or if, rather, he had discovered—that Minetta Olshausen had been unfaithful to him, he might have believed it without too much difficulty; but that she was betraying him—stealing and telling his most intimate secrets for money—he refused to credit for a second.
Insolent stupidity to suggest such a thing! She was not capable of the mildest, most obvious, intrigues; why, he had been able to be completely at his ease with her—to say things before her—that he would have said before no one else; even, now he came to consider the matter (and he was bound to consider it a little after what the Duke of Glückstadt had said), to visit her with his code in his pocket, to leave important papers in his coat that hung all night in her chamber, to read letters in her presence and leave them lying on her dressing-table. She, a peasant from the Tyrol, knew nothing but that dialect, and a little German; Italian, and French, in which he usually corresponded, would be impossible for her to decipher.
Certainly those men had been right in this: that, if she had been both intelligent and false, she had had considerable opportunities to betray him.
The Prince was amazed at their impertinence, and did not quite know how to deal with it; he would force Madame Olshausen on them, of course, at every possible opportunity; he would give a supper, and invite them all, and set her at the head of the table. She should go with him everywhere. Her coach should have a prominent place at all reviews. He would induce the Emperor, when he had taken Mons and Brussels and could ask for more rewards, to make her a Duchess.
Both his pride and his passion jumped in this. Minetta Olshausen pleased him so much that he was prepared to do anything for her save marry her: he believed that he loved her; he certainly could not think without a wrench at the heart, most uncommon to his cold temperament, of leaving her; and now, of course, he could not have left her without submitting to the dictations of his officers. She was secure in her position for a long time to come, through his arrogant pride if not through his affection. He decided, as he rode through the slender avenue which led to the little château she occupied, that he would make the most desperate efforts to discover who this spy was, and thus vindicate his judgment.
It had been, as the young Duke had remarked, "damned odd" about the artillery surprise; and also about the attack on the St. Nicholas Gate; but if there were a spy at work, surely he, Prince Clement Louis, who had never failed in anything yet, could discover the odious traitor, and that without too much ado? As for the matter of this request of which Glückstadt had been the mouthpiece, he would have to break any officer who mentioned it to him again; or, if a ruling prince dared to do so, insult him to such an extent that he would return home.
The Generalissimo could ill afford the withdrawal of any troops, but he would rather that half his forces left than be in any way dictated to by another. Madame Olshausen should stay even if the Confederacy fell to pieces; if need be, he reflected, he would leave the Emperor and obtain a command somewhere else. He was sufficiently famous to be able to demand his own terms. Poor young Glückstadt had spoken of a difficult situation which might arise to confound the nicest in judgment; and he had replied that he could not credit any such situation, which could not be efficiently dealt with by men of tact and breeding; and he smiled as he thought of the young Duke's embarrassment. There was no great difficulty about this particular situation: he knew how to deal with those generals of his, and also with Madame Olshausen.
She was waiting for him in a room which she had already been able to render charming. Whenever she followed the army, she took with her a quantity of baggage; and whatever deserted mansion or devastated chateau might be put at her disposal she rendered it almost immediately civilized and delightful. Her few servants were installed with her, and a troop of Black Cuirassiers kept guard in the court of honour. Prince Clement Louis knew all the household and all the soldiers; they were particularly selected for this delicate work. As for the servants, not one of them could possibly be a traitor, for they all came from his own estate of Grafenburg Freiwaldau.
She greeted him with the most tender affection, the most joyous delight, and with her own hands took off his mantle. She was finely blonde and as pale and exquisite as the most fragile manner of flower, and, dressed in fine, floating laces and shimmering blue ribbons (for she knew that he liked both laces and ribbons), and hung with pearls which were part of his lavish gifts to her, she appeared like a creature too ethereal for mere humanity.
Supper was prepared and the pale candles lit. He saw to it that she was well-served. In everything he was fastidious and sumptuous.
Madame Olshausen said she had been dull all day, that it was rather lonely and sad in the little pavilion in the thick woods, from which you could not even see the great fortress, nor the camp; but you could, she added, hear the guns firing, and there was something grim and frightening in that sound.
"The next time there is a review," he replied, "you shall come to it; you would like that, would you not?"
And she flushed with pleasure and cried out her gratitude; for never before had she received such an open honour.
After supper, which His Serene Highness enjoyed without the least alloy in his pleasure, the cloth was drawn and a case of small models of soldiers set out; Prince Clement Louis carefully arranged these. They were one of his chief amusements, and often something more than an amusement; for he preferred to plan the disposition of his troops in this manner instead of on paper.
Madame Olshausen sat on the arm of his chair and watched him as he quickly arranged the cavalry in small squads, one behind the other. He was already planning the manner of his state entry into Brussels, and he saw these small, lead figures magnified into the size of his Dragoons and Hussars, and the tiny metal flags into the grandeur of great standards, bearing the Imperial Eagles and his own arms and those of the Allies, and crowned with wreaths of laurels.
"Ah, so sure of taking Brussels!" she laughed; and he answered:
"Of course! I have never yet sat down before a town I have not taken."
"But there's Mons in the way," smiled Madame Olshausen.
"Mons will fall in a day, or two or three days."
"You're expecting reinforcements?"
And he, remembering the conversation with the young Duke of Glückstadt, was almost startled:
"Did I tell you that, Minetta?"
"Of course you told me that—how else could I know?"
How else indeed? And he had always used the most careless freedom towards her, as he would have used it towards one of his own generals...or a fool.
"Well," she laughed, putting her tiny hand caressingly on his epaulettes, "I hope we shall soon leave Mons. I want you very much to take this town, for I am rather weary of this little pavilion in the woods."
"I come here," he smiled, "almost every night; it is only in the day time that you are alone. Are you beginning to be tired of following the army?"
He turned to look at her as he spoke, and saw reflected an infinite passion in her candid eyes. He could not doubt that she loved him. He could scarcely doubt that he loved her...
The Prince continued thoughtfully and with precision to arrange his military pieces. When he had them set out to his taste, he left them on the table and leant back in the deep chair with arms. He had realized that he was fatigued. He had been up with the dawn, inspecting the trenches. It was two nights since he had been able to repose himself in the little pavilion in the woods; and he asked Madame Olshausen to call his valet, and, when the man came, gave him his Orders, taking them off one by one: the Golden Fleece, the White Eagle of Poland, the White Eagle of Prussia, coveted stars and crosses that had been his since he was a boy.
The valet took these away and locked them into a Chinese lacquer cabinet. Prince Clement Louis stood up to take off his heavy coat, and as he did so thought to put his hand in his pocket: there were some papers there, including that private cipher code that he never was without. He put all carelessly on the table beside the array of metal soldiers, and then he turned and went into the inner bedroom, which was so pleasantly lit by one silver lamp.
If it had not been for that absurd conversation with the Duke of Glückstadt it never would have occurred to His Serene Highness to turn back and look at Madame Olshausen through the half-open door.
She was still seated, so pale and airy and fair, on the arm of the big leather chair which he had just left; and she was bending over the soldiers, with her hands just hovering over those little squads of metal cavalry. He had not noticed, ever before, that she had shown any interest in those little toys of his; but was it over the soldiers her tiny hand was hovering?...Or over those papers that he had left—almost purposely left—for her inspection?
She was certainly flicking over the papers, and now she looked round, and assured herself that she was alone—not seeing him in the shadow of the door, so slightly ajar; and now she was reading: surely, although she could scarcely read or write her native tongue, she was carefully and deliberately reading that French document! Prince Clement Louis waited...a moment, two moments, five moments; and still Minetta Olshausen was reading the papers he had left on the table.
This was the first time that he had ever watched her, so sure and so careless had he always been in his dealing with the little Columbine. He went back into the bedroom, and considered. Of course, very likely there was nothing in it. In fact, it was absurd to think there was anything in it! She could not really have been reading. And that French paper had not been of any importance. What was of importance was in code, and it was ridiculous to suppose that she could de-code his cipher, the secret of which was known only to himself and his correspondents.
He came back to her. She was half curled up in her chair, in her flounces and ribbons and pearls, and seemed almost asleep. He gathered up the papers quietly, and, with them in his hand, asked, with even more than his usual careless indifference in his manner:
"You were never at the Court of Hanover, were you, under the name of Madame Aurora Frey?"
She shuddered and stiffened; under her drooping lids her eyes gleamed as he had never seen them gleam before, but her self-command was admirable, She said:
"Monseigneur, what do you mean? I do not know the name at all."
The sound of the guns broke across the night: the usual night attack of the artillery on Mons.
Madame Olshausen sprang up, nervously wringing her hands. She seemed about to weep.
"I cannot endure it!" she cried. "It is so terrible, the cannonading day and night!"
"But it has never upset you before," remarked Prince Clement Louis, never ceasing to watch her keenly.
"It upsets me now!" she cried, throwing herself on to his breast; and that action heightened his suspicions. She would, of course, if she thought he doubted her, bring into play all the allurements which she knew affected him...endeavour to reduce him with every possible grace.
She clasped him closely and began to sob a little, resting her exquisite head on his breast; and the Prince, returning this embrace, for purposes of his own, asked again:
"You have never heard of Madame Aurora Frey?" He held her tightly, and this time he could have no doubt that the name caused her to stiffen. She became almost rigid in his arms.
"No!" she gasped out at once. "Why will you tease me? Of course it means nothing to me, and I have never been to Hanover."
"I thought not," he answered smoothly, "but some one mentioned that name to me to-day, and connected it with you."
"Who was it?" she asked too quickly.
"It doesn't matter," he replied, "since there is nothing in the story, eh, Minetta? It can be of no importance?"
"Of course, of none," she replied.
"Go to bed now," he said, disengaging himself from her, "and I will join you in a little while. I have some work to do still."
She left him, obedient at once. Never had he known her anything but obedient. She appeared more than ever innocent and childlike and graceful.
When she had left him, His Serene Highness sat for more than half an hour, carefully thinking, with no change in his expressionless face. Then he sent for Madame Olshausen's woman, Frau Dotler—a creature in whom he could have complete trust; and, sitting there in his brocaded dressing-gown by the table on which the lead soldiers stood undisturbed, he questioned her; and to every question received a satisfactory answer.
Madame Olshausen neither sent nor received messages. She went out alone sometimes, certainly, but there was not the least reason to suspect her of any indiscretion.
"You think her," asked Prince Clement Louis, "very simple and foolish and illiterate, do you not—a peasant girl, in fact—about the simplest creature that you've ever had charge of?"
The woman said respectfully that so she did think.
"So I believe myself," smiled His Serene Highness. "Now will you give me your keys, her keys and go to bed; and please see that someone is sent down to my headquarters for Dr. Hartmann? I shall require his attendance up here, say, in an hour's time."
Having given these orders and received the keys of Frau Dotler and Madame Olshausen's keys brought from her dressing-table, Prince Clement Louis again sat silent a little while, turning many things over in his mind. They were very trivial-looking keys—nothing, as Frau Dotler had explained, was locked up save one cabinet, where the lady kept a few letters (those written by His Highness when they were separated by the vicissitudes of war) and a few of her more precious jewels.
Before he proceeded to use these keys, he looked into the bed-chamber and saw her, by the light of the silver lamp, asleep. It was convenient that she should be asleep, and he always had been able to trust her to do the convenient thing.
He unlocked the brass and tortoise-shell cabinet which the waiting-woman had indicated, and found therein what she had said he would find: letters, his own letters, and a few valuable pieces of jewellery; but he was skilful at careful searching, and acute in his observations; and in a few moments he had found something more than either letters or jewellery. In the flat bottom of the case that held a string of brilliants was a careful copy of the key to his private cipher, short transcripts in French of letters which he had lately sent, and a German version of the Italian despatch he had lately sent in code to Maréchal Monsanto.
No further proof was needed: the woman was exactly what Glückstadt had said she was—what every one, save himself, had discovered her to be: a spy...an adroit professional spy.
The first emotion that Prince Clement Louis felt was amazement at her sheer cleverness—her diabolical cleverness. She must be an educated, accomplished, clever woman, and she had passed herself off on him, who so prided himself on his knowledge of human nature, as an illiterate fool, and lulled him into an entire carelessness of which she had taken a deadly advantage. He remembered with a chill at his heart the assault on the Nicholas Gate which had so terribly failed; and his artillery train, ambushed and cut to pieces in the morass; and those two other secrets—she knew of them. Had she had a chance to betray them? He did not think so, for her woman had said that she had not left the pavilion for two days. She had lacked a chance. It was clear she employed no messenger—she was too subtle for that...probably she went herself to some rendezvous far beyond the lines, and delivered her information to some emissary of the enemy.
He took the papers and destroyed them, replaced the jewellery carefully, and again locked up the brass and tortoise-shell cabinet.
Who was she? Aurora Frey, of the Hanoverian Court? Minetta, of the Italian Comedy? the Baroness Olshausen, of Imperial creation? Who was she? He would not be likely ever to know now, nor did it greatly matter. A spy, and, with that appearance and that skill, worth her light weight in jewels twice over to whoever had the luck to employ her. And through it all she had loved him: he was convinced of that; and he loved her. Somewhere between them was a romantic dream which even this could not spoil; a deep passion which even this could not mar. But he had always been master, both of his dreams and of his passions. Never had they dominated him—nay, not only not dominated, never had they influenced him...
And now, how to get out of this? He had boasted to young Glückstadt, that there was no situation, however complicated and delicate, from which a gentleman of tact and breeding and experience could not extricate himself. He would have to act at once. If he allowed her to-morrow, she would use it to betray him again.
Two more heavy losses. Too more deep blows at his prestige and his pride. Enough to send all those murmuring officers and princes into open revolt. And he had his obligations towards them—already they had suffered profoundly through this woman of his, through his infatuation. Reinforcements must come up and the assault on Mons must be successful.
He passed to the table and gazed at his array of metal soldiers. That triumphal entry into Brussels must not be jeopardized. He could have her arrested and put out of the reach of any further mischief; but to do so would mean to make himself an object of ridicule to all those men whom he considered—nay, whom he knew to be—his inferiors. How they would smile and sneer, even to his face..."We knew—we had to warn you before you noticed it! If Glückstadt hadn't spoken you'd have gone on in your blindness till we were all massacred in our tents. You, who were so impervious to feminine influence! How she took you in! She made such a fool of you that you talked openly in front of her, flung about your correspondence, even the key to your secret code!"
For the first time in his life he would give these men the opportunity to sneer at him. A great many people had disliked—perhaps hated—him; but so far no one had been able to despise him; and he did not intend to give anyone, now, that excuse.
The way out, then? The boasted tact and fortitude which he had told Glückstadt would help a gentleman out of any difficult situation?
When the doctor arrived from the headquarters at the pavilion in the woods, he found His Serene Highness, still in the brocaded bedgown, seated by the table on which was that imposing array of lead soldiers. A carafe of water and some glasses were beside him, and he handled a rose-coloured phial which appeared to contain scent.
"Your Serene Highness looks extremely pale," remarked the doctor with sympathy.
"You are mistaken," replied Prince Clement Louis. "It is not for myself that I have sent for you, but for Madame Olshausen." And he led the way into the charming bedroom where this lady still lay asleep, and roused her with a pressure of his hand on her bare shoulder.
"She was taken very ill at supper, my dear doctor. I was quite alarmed. A fit or seizure, followed by a great faintness. She has had these attacks before, but never so badly as to-night."
The young woman sat up in bed, surprised and confused to see the doctor standing beside her lover. She appeared to glow not only with youth and beauty but with the uttermost bloom of health; but His Serene Highness remarked coolly:
"You observe, doctor, how she is flushed with fever!"
"Indeed," protested the lady in amaze. "I am perfectly well, and I do not know, Monseigneur, to what you refer."
"It is quite usual," said the doctor, bowing, "for the patient to forget such attacks, madam. Now, if you permit me a prescription."
The Prince interrupted:
"I dare say there will be no need of that, if you think she seems well enough; but I thought I would like you to see her, my dear doctor. And now you are awake, Minetta, perhaps you would like a glass of chicory-water—it is a favourite refreshment of yours, and I have had some freshly prepared."
"I would like it well enough," she said bewildered, "but indeed I do not know what this means! I am perfectly well!"
"I hope," smiled the Prince, "that you do not deceive yourself." And he offered her the glass of water which he had held in his hand since he entered the chamber.
She drank it hastily, and then he urged her to lie down and rest.
"Now the doctor has seen you, I feel more at ease."
The two men went into the outer chamber.
"She seems, Monseigneur," began the doctor respectfully, "in perfect health."
"She is not in perfect health; she is in a very dangerous state," said Prince Clement Louis; "and I must beg you, Dr. Hartmann, to remember it. You will please stay at the pavilion to-night; you may be required again. I have never consulted you for Madame Olshausen's health before, but that is not because I have not been anxious about it, but because she has such a dislike of physicians; but to-night the attack was too severe for me to ignore it."
The doctor bowed, filled with a vague uneasiness, and, smilingly dismissed by His Serene Highness, retired.
Prince Clement Louis returned to the table and the array of soldiers. Nothing would blemish that triumph; no one would be able to sneer at him...He put the pink phial carefully in an inner pocket of his brocaded gown. He had several such. They were certain legacies from his mother, who had been devoted to his interests. She had left, besides the phials, a curious reputation in most of the Courts of Europe, not unconcerned with the sudden deaths of notable personalities whose political interests were opposed to those of her employer; but she had been a great princess and a very beautiful woman.
Looking at the pompous array of soldiery, Prince Clement Louis thought:
"How shall I ever replace Minetta? How shall I ever find anyone so docile and obedient and delicious? And I am sure that she loves me as I love her; it could hardly be otherwise. But dreams and passions must not interfere with more important matters."
What was a mistress compared to a city—or any woman compared to a successful campaign, a triumphal process, and the laurels gilded by the Emperor's gratitude? What was any love-affair, however charming, compared to the respect of his officers and his obligations towards them? Nothing—a grain of dust in the scale.
Everything was silent in the pavilion in the woods. Prince Clement Louis went into the bedchamber of Minetta.
Soon after dawn, the frightened Doctor Hartmann was roused by the Prince himself, standing at his bedside.
"I told you you would probably be needed, doctor. Madame Olshausen is dead. She died suddenly just now, in my arms. An attack like that of last night. And it was over immediately, before I could call assistance."
The doctor, in a panic, began to huddle on his clothes. He noticed that the Prince was partially dressed and seemed perfectly cool and unconcerned, though he was even paler than he had been last night.
"Is Your Highness sure," he stammered, "that the lady is really dead? Some mistake, perhaps—"
"Perfectly sure," said Prince Clement Louis. "There can be no possibility of mistake."
Through the quiet rooms of the pretty little pavilion the two men went to the bedchamber of Madame Olshausen. The sun was already shining in the trees, which pressed quite close to the open windows; and the birds were singing in the pale, light leafage. But in her room the curtains had been drawn.
She was certainly dead, in her frivolous laces and ribbons, half-naked in the charming, disarrayed luxury of her coquettish bed; and His Serene Highness, gazing down at her, remarked:
"You see, my dear doctor, I was quite correct in my opinion as to her state of health?"
And the doctor muttered, not caring to look up into the cold, reserved face of the Prince:
"Monseigneur, you were perfectly right."
The attack on Mons was successful. In three days the city fell. The relief coming up under Maréchal d'Orbitello was not ambushed. The pride of the Generalissimo was in no way blown upon. With the death of Madame Olshausen all cause of discontent and complaint was removed. She had a pompous funeral, and he his triumphal entry into Brussels. If his lonely spirit was at times struck by shafts of a surprising agony, he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had dealt successfully with a very delicate situation.
A design by Giovanni Battista Piranési for an Almanac
by John Evelyn, Esquire. [ROME, 18th Century.]
Herr Stoppelmann had come to Italy to study gardening and see what choice rarities he might bring back with him to adorn the parterres of the German prince who employed him; Herr Stoppelmann was a very learned pedant, and knew more about horticulture than any wise man would seek to know about anything.
He had been sent to Rome by a fellow enthusiast, who told him to search among the ruins of the Coliseum and the Forum for a certain bell-shaped flower of a curious greenish, milky hue, belonging to the species of a Brumal jacinth, the bulbs of which were very difficult to obtain; but which, when once planted in a rich, loamy soil, covered in the winter with dry straw or peasehame, would, in the spring, bloom into a plant that would grace any Royal garden.
Herr Stoppelmann had stayed several days in Rome, and searched the ruins, but had found no trace of any but common weeds. It was not a good season of the year for such as shared Herr Stoppelmann's enthusiasm, for the farewell frosts and nipping winds were prejudicing the choicest flowers and spotting them with freckles; and the alternating of these yet continuing frosts and sharp winds, with the sudden quick, piercing heat of the sun, scorched and destroyed those delicate flowers which Herr Stoppelmann had come expressly to Italy to see expanding their loveliness under the native azure of their translucent skies.
Now it happened that some one on whose opinion he did not very much rely—and yet who had spoken with a certain conviction—had told Herr Stoppelmann to promenade the Coliseum by moonlight, and then he would very likely see his Brumal jacinths growing by this silvery light of night, and coloured, not white (said his informant), but purple or crimson, and of a far fairer and more exquisite beauty than its milky pale fellow. And therefore, on this sharp evening of early Italian spring, which would in any other country have yet been winter, Herr Stoppelmann, soberly dressed in his russet and black, and with a number of his inseparable books in a strap tucked under his arm, walked round the ruins of the Coliseum—which, black as it was against the pale moonlit sky, almost frightened him by the immensity of its shape and the grandeur of its design. It dwarfed all buildings to a pitiful insignificance he had ever seen or ever imagined, and made him, for the first time in his life, wonder if his particular duty and passion of horticulture was of that preeminent importance which he had hitherto considered it to be.
"If I had not been a florist," he mused, sitting on one of the large fallen stones and gazing round the arena, "I would have liked to be an architect."
He did not see his pursued flower growing in the crevices of any of the fallen ruins, nor adorning the mighty walls which yet rose undefiled, undefaced by time. He saw silvery, silky weeds and brambles and pallid daisies, nipped by the frost, black and white hellebore, wicked, poisonous plants; and here and there a scattering of white violets, where the stones overlapped one another and had formed, by their shelter, a damp, mossy shelter: all these Herr Stoppelmann perceived through the pale, misty light of the frosty moonshine, but he found no Brumal jacinth, nor any rarity which resembled that coveted variety.
So he was sitting, now fatigued, and presently took out his books, unstrapped them, and by this same moonlight began to read one of them—Kalendarium Hortense—which was a classic English book on gardening and he in his leisure, was translating it into German; he opened it at the thumb-marked passage which he was at present digesting:
"How to take off a reproach which Box may lie under, otherwise a most beautiful and useful Shrub for Edging, and other Ornaments of a Coronary garden, because its scent is not agreeable to many. If, immediately upon Clipping, when only it is most offensive, you Water it, the Smell vanishes and is no more considerable..."
So absorbed was Herr Stoppelmann in this book—to translate which had been so agreeable yet arduous a pleasure to him, and which he had prefaced with seven pages of dedication to his master, His Serene Electoral Highness—that he was considerably startled to look up and see two men regarding him with downcast looks and folded arms: two masked men in cloaks. And Herr Stoppelmann realized, with an unpleasant start, that he was alone in the Coliseum by night, and that he had heard it was a place of no good repute, much frequented by banditti and assassins.
Having been educated at Leyden, Herr Stoppelmann of course knew all the languages in Europe, and almost everything else there was to know besides; therefore he addressed the two strangers in a flowing Tuscan, and asked them rather timidly if they had any business with him?
"Well, we don't know yet," replied one of them in another dialect—that of the Romagna—"we were rather amused to see you here, sitting one a stone and reading a book. Couldn't you find a more comfortable place or a more comfortable occupation?"
Herr Stoppelmann rose and bowed. His nervousness had been increased by the fact that he noticed the two strangers were shabby, heavily armed, and wore strips of black ribbon tied rather negligently over the upper portions of their faces, as if they wished to be masked and yet could hardly take the trouble to disguise themselves.
"I am," said the German, "a horticulturalist and an antiquarian. I have come here to look for a flower which is said to bloom on the Roman ruins—but that will not interest you: in fact I was already convinced that I came on a fool's errand, and I was merely passing the time, because the spot was so imposing and the light so clear. In fact," he added nervously, "there is no reasonable explanation at all of why I am here. I fell into habit and took out a book I am translating, and proceeded to read it."
"I should read it at home, if I were you."
"I am not at home here," said Herr Stoppelmann, who had a liking for exactitude of phrase. "I am staying at an inn—'The Three White Horses'—it is not far."
"Return, then, my dear fellow," said one of the strangers, "to the Three White Horses,' and ask them to gallop you away out of Rome as quickly as possible."
"I do not understand the drift of your jest," said Herr Stoppelmann, "but I am quite willing to leave the Coliseum to you. It no longer has very much interest for me—in fact, I find it rather overwhelming."
One of the strangers had now thrust his hand into the leather bag he wore strapped round his waist, and brought out a handful of coins.
"If you are an antiquarian," he remarked, "perhaps you would care to buy these. I have dug them up in my promenades round the Roman ruins."
Herr Stoppelmann looked eagerly at the treasure, and found many of the coins were of the first importance—though only of interest to a collector.
"How much do you want for these?" he asked, forgetting his fear of the two strangers in his eagerness to acquire these curios, which he was quite sure he could re-sell at a very handsome profit to His Serene Electoral Highness, who had an obsession for this manner of rarity.
Seeing that he was prepared to bargain, the other two sat down on the stones near to Herr Stoppelmann, spread out the coins and proceeded to argue in the most amiable fashion about their value and their price; Herr Stoppelmann getting the antiques for what he believed to be far less than they were worth, and the others selling them for far more than they had ever hoped to obtain, the three became good friends, and chatted amiably together—especially when the two Italians produced a flask of Aqua Vita and pledged the professor in the fiery refreshment: while they civilly drank to the exchange of these ancient coins of the Roman Emperor for present coins of His Holiness the Pope—of good negotiable value in the inns of Rome.
The liquor was of extraordinary potency, and Herr Stoppelmann, between the effects of it and the pleasure of having secured the antiquities (which now lay comfortably in his pocket) became quite garrulous, and told the friendly and agreeable strangers—whose manner was so much more pleasant than their rather sinister appearance—all about his journey to Italy and his search for rare plants, and he became so encouraged by the sound of his own words as almost to believe himself in a professorial chair in a Dutch university, talking to a large number of students.
So he began to discourse gravely on how cats will eat and destroy Marum Syriacum, if they can come at it; therefore it is best to guard it with furze or holly branch, together with other secrets not till now divulged, he declared pompously; how tuber roses will not endure the wet of September, therefore they are best set in pots, wrapped in papers, and put up the chimney; how the first ripe pear is, rightly treated, the Hamden Bergamot, and the first for baking the Arundel pear, while the most excellent is the Louis pear; and so he discoursed to a polite if inattentive audience, and pleased by the manner in which these two men—who looked so ruffianly and acted in so gentlemanly a fashion—sat and listened to him, Herr Stoppelmann at last asked them if it was entirely the charms of his eloquence that held them there in the Coliseum at this hour of the night?...and they answered, "No, they had some other business."
"We are not only gentlemen of leisure," confessed one, "nor do we entirely make our living by selling the coins and curios which we dig up in the ruins of Rome. We may be hired for private and intimate affairs."
"Oh," said Herr Stoppelmann, rather checked in his discourse. "You are not, I suppose, assassins?" At which the two masked men smiled with a deprecating air.
"We, on occasion, do undertake work of that kind," admitted one. "But there is no need for you to disturb yourself, for you are not the victim whom we are out to seek to-night."
At this Herr Stoppelmann was considerably startled, and the discourse on horticulture died away on his lips. He even made a hasty attempt to rise, but his two companions detained him courteously.
"I cannot be a party to murder," cried Herr Stoppelmann, whose brain was a little confused by the Aqua Vita, and who scarcely knew what he was saying, yet felt he had heard something about which he must protest. He could not, however, make his escape, for one of the gentlemen who had admitted to being an assassin was holding him by the cloak, and he saw, at this moment, a third man coming to join them, at which his blood ran very cold indeed with a nasty bitter fear.
The two gentlemen who detained him, however, told him that the newcomer was no friend of theirs.
"Perhaps however," stammered the German, "he is your victim."
"Nothing of the kind—our victim will be walking with a lady."
The new-comer had now joined them, and seeing that they were alone in the vast arena of the Coliseum and that he was passing them so close, it seemed only civil for him to salute them—which he did with a very gracious air, and even paused and made some conventional remark about the clarity of the moonlight and the grandeur of the Coliseum.
"I hope," he added, "that you are not molesting this gentleman," and he smiled agreeably at Herr Stoppelmann and touched his sword—for he was a young and vigorous man, obviously of noble birth, and armed both with rapier and pistol.
The two assassins bowed in recognition of his quality, and declared that they were hearing a most elevating discourse from the other gentleman, who was a horticulturalist in search of a certain flower which was supposed only to bloom on Roman ruins.
"And we have taken the occasion to sell him some Roman coins which we discovered in the Forum," said one. "There is nothing in all this to disturb your Excellency."
"But you are perhaps waiting for some unfortunate," remarked the stranger. "I have heard that the Coliseum is a most dangerous place at night."
"Why then, does your Lordship wander in it unprotected?" asked one of the assassins pleasantly.
"I do not know," replied the stranger with a certain languor, as if any place was of indifference to him, "I came to Rome to keep an appointment, and I am rather too early. So to fill in the time I thought I would walk in the Coliseum and see the moonlight."
As he spoke, Herr Stoppelmann looked at him with some relief. He was glad to have a companion, and to be no longer alone in the society of the two admitted assassins. It was all very well reading about such affairs in the comfort of one's chamber, but he had no wish to be an actor in one of the innumerable scenes of violence that he had often heard disgraced the streets and the ruins of Rome.
The stranger was youthful and handsome, though without much fire or animation. He seemed as one lazy in his wishes and languid in his desires. He carried himself gracefully and with a certain careless nobility, and he was finely dressed in expensive travelling clothes. His hair appeared to be newly dressed and powdered, and was clasped by a paste buckle—very recklessly, Herr Stoppelmann thought. There was also paste, or maybe diamonds, in the young man's laces, but he eyed the assassins coolly, as if not in the least apprehensive of any danger from them.
"Truly," he remarked disdainfully, "Rome is very badly governed when it is possible for gentlemen like you to lurk here waiting for their victim, uninterrupted."
He then addressed the German:
"And you, my good sir, had better come with me. You are hardly in the most desirable of company."
The two assassins shrugged their shoulders.
"One must live," one of them remarked carelessly. "We do very well for ourselves, and no more harm to others than anyone else, I think. We are very practised in our work, and our victim dies instantly—just a stroke between the shoulder-blades, and all his troubles are over. We then take him up and very neatly convey him through the streets, making him look like a sack of rubbish, and drop him into the Tiber. There the current is rapid and the waters are muddy, and likely enough he is not found again."
"Or washed up into the drains, perhaps," mused the young man, with a shudder. "Whom are you waiting for to-night?"
"A gentleman who will be presently promenading here with a lady," answered one of the assassins.
"Then I must stay and protect him," replied the young man, "for the lady's sake, if not for his."
Upon this both the assassins laughed.
"For the lady's sake!" they cried. "It's the lady who has paid us—and paid us well—to make away with the gentleman."
"Ah, her husband!" exclaimed the young man, with an accent of surprise and slight horror.
"No, in this case it is not her husband, but her lover. I believe the affair touches politics—but that is nothing to do with us. If you, sir, are an adventurer, as we are, perhaps you would care to join in the business and share the reward?"
"That is a strange suggestion to make to me," remarked the young man.
"Well, you can hardly be an honest traveller, your Excellency," smiled one of the assassins, bowing again, "or you would not be walking here at this time of night. There's many a year that I've known the Coliseum, and I've never seen an honest man in it by moonlight yet, unless he's been lured here to meet his end, just like the gentleman whom we have to deal with to-night will be lured here by the lady."
The young man considered thoughtfully, and then shrugged his shoulders. It was none of it his business. He had a most important appointment to keep, and could not by any means remain in the Coliseum and help this unknown stranger to free himself from the trap that was awaiting him. Besides, perhaps he deserved it. The young man always made a chivalrous point of being on the side of the ladies, and if the lady had decreed the assassination, perhaps she was justified in doing so. He thought to himself: "If I see a couple proceeding round the ruins, I will warn the gentleman and risk the lady's displeasure. If I see a guardia', I will tell him that there is a crime meditated in the Coliseum. If I see neither of these things, I will go to my rendezvous and forget all about it." He could not, of course, be too severe—there were certain turns of good fortune in his own life that he owed to assassination.
"I suppose," he remarked after he had made these reflections, "you have no objection to my continuing my way?" And both the assassins said politely that they had no objection whatever.
"We never interfere, as a matter of professional honour, with any but those whom we are paid to attack," they assured him. "And whatever your business is, we are assured that it is no more lawful than ours, and you may go on it undisturbed."
"It certainly," admitted the young man, with an elegant smile, "is no more lawful than yours. You are right there, and we may consider ourselves, I suppose, birds of a feather." And he lifted his plumed hat and bowed to the three of them.
But Herr Stoppelmann sprang forward and caught him by the flowered brocade of his sleeve.
"Indeed, sir, do not leave me in the Coliseum. These gentry are very courteous, but I should be glad to be rid of their company."
"I will see you to the street," said the stranger, "and then I am afraid I must leave you, for I have—as I believe I have already remarked—a very important appointment."
The two assassins allowed them to depart without any attempt to interfere with them.
"What an extraordinary country," gasped Herr Stoppelmann as they made their way carefully over the half-ruined seats of the Coliseum.
"I suppose it is," said the young man. "I have lived here nearly all my life."
"In Rome, sir?"
"No, not in Rome, but in Italy. One gets used to these things. Who are you?"
"I," said Herr Stoppelmann with some pomposity, "am in the employment of a German prince whose name I do not feel at liberty to divulge. Politics, you know, my dear sir—politics."
The young man caught his arm, for he was stumbling over a large block of masonry in his way.
"I am writing a book," gasped the horticulturalist, when he had recovered his breath. "Hortus Deliciarum." And then he began to relate of his search for the flower, white in most places, but purple when found in the Coliseum by moonlight.
The young man laughed. "There's a double meaning in that, I think."
They had now left the gigantic ruins, and stood on the ground outside, where was the half-fallen fountain where the gladiators used to wash their wounds; and beyond, the facade of some baroque houses—flat, white, adorned with wreaths of fruit, with green blinds drawn against the moonlight.
The young man took a diamond studded watch, round as an apple, from his breast-pocket, and looked at the time.
"I am due for my appointment," he observed civilly, "and now sir, I must bid you good night. I would willingly escort you to your inn, but I have not time."
"May I not know your name?" said the German, bowing, "so that I can thank you personally."
"Call me," said the young man, "Porphyrios."
Slightly apart from the other silent shuttered houses the silent shuttered house with the green persianes faced the gigantic circle of the Coliseum. To reach this Porphyrios had to pass two monstrous pillars, above which the acanthus leaves scrolled round the capitals like frozen waves, and where all the hard, curling fronds were picked out by the moonlight into hard shapes of black and white. Beneath these pillars, on a waste of ground, grew some ragged grass, and a herdsman, clad in goatskins, sat there asleep; while three white kids browsed round his feet.
Porphyrios paused, and looked at this and at the house he was about to visit. He was on a foolish errand, but life without folly was hardly conceivable to one of his temperament. He had been for years in love with a woman who had blighted his fairest prospects, alienated his best friends and overclouded his reputation in its tenderest point. He had finally, after a due consideration of all these facts, dismissed her, and she had come to Rome and married, on the strength of the pension that Porphyrios had allowed her, an old man with a ruined reputation and an ancient name. So he (Porphyrios) was well rid of a dangerous love affair, and yet not in the least rid—for he must secretly write to the lady and beg to see her again, seeking out the chains from which he had with such difficulty delivered himself; and she had told him that she had too many enemies to be able to venture abroad, but that if he cared to come to Rome she would meet him, and she named this house near the Coliseum, which was a caffè and sweetstuff shop, and had rooms above—let easily for obscure and difficult interviews.
To come to Rome had been to come into a city of enemies. He was therefore in disguise, but he might be recognized. When he had seen the two assassins just now, waiting in the Coliseum, he had believed they were for him. He had not been afraid to meet them, for he was well armed; but he had been rather relieved to discover that he was not their destined victim. Now he paused, and wondered how his foolish adventure would end, and if Antonia Camilla was worth the risk he took.
The caffè that Porphyrios approached, and above which were the rooms where he would meet his beloved, was not—as might be supposed—of the better sort, for this was a dangerous and avoided neighbourhood; but it was famous for the making of sweetmeats, and, in the day-time, many gallants would throng there to buy gifts for their mistresses. Soon after the dusk fell it was deserted, and now the doors were closed and there was only a dim light coming between the lattice of the shutters.
Porphyrios pushed the door and entered into a small white room, set with chairs and tables, and the walls painted with arabesques surrounding figures of dancing girls. The air was heavy and sickly with the smell of hot sweets, and on the table were many delicacies ready for sale on the morrow, such as cream toast or pain perdu, blancmanges, jellies, orange pudding, bateleo pie, sullebubs, marchpain, chocolate creams, salladmagundy and pippin frazes—all these set out temptingly in clear silver or glass dishes.
Porphyrios crossed this room and opened a door at the back, which stood ajar, and looked into the kitchen, where a fair and plump young girl was making jelly, straining some finely-clarified lemon-juice of a pure white colour into a swan-skin jelly-bag, which hung on a clean saucepan; the lemon-juice poured out as clear as rock-water; while over a charcoal fire an old woman was stirring hard some boiling cream, and pouring on it a mazarine, and flavouring it with a piece of cinnamon—all of which made a medley of potent, sweet perfume in the close air.
"Ah, you are the gentleman for whom the lady waits upstairs," cried the old woman. "You go up one flight and stop at the first door. She has been here half an hour."
"But I," smiled Porphyrios, "am punctual to my appointment."
The old woman and the young girl looked at him curiously, each pausing in their delicate, frivolous labours.
"You are not masked," they remarked, "and we should know your face again."
Porphyrios thought it had possibly been very foolish of him to come unmasked, and yet it scarcely mattered, and he was of a temperament that finds it most difficult to take precautions. He would rather face the consequences of imprudence than be at the trouble to be prudent.
So he went up the narrow stairs boldly, as one embarked on a just design, and knocked at the first door he came to; and her familiar voice said "Enter!" And when he had entered and seen her, he did not grudge his pains, or his long, tedious travel, for she seemed to him to represent all the grandeur of Nature and all the profuseness of God in sending beauty on to the earth—for of grace and fairness and gaiety and voluptuous charm she had an amazing plenty, and she always roused in the breast of Porphyrios a gratitude to heaven for the gift of her, for she was more noble and sumptuous than any woman, not only that he had beheld in the flesh, but whom he had beheld through the imagination of artists and poets, painted or described; and he had always cherished her as a great rarity, which perhaps a hundred years would not produce again. It was true he owed himself a certain compliment for the discernment which made him perceive these manifold charms, for he had taken her from an obscure—even a shameful—position. Therefore her lustre shone all the more brightly in contrast to the dingy nothingness from which she had sprung.
All this was quickly in his mind as he stood inside the door and looked at her again, as she sat on a yellow sofa with her hands folded in her lap and her mantle disposed decorously over her shoulders; but he knew that when she took the mantle off her bosom would be bare.
All this was Antonia Camilla to Porphyrios, and because of her he had abandoned everything—things of great moment and sharp import—to come all this tiresome way from Florence to Rome, at peril of more than his life; yet to others she was but an ordinary woman, and to some she was very detestable.
"I never thought you would come," she smiled, staring at him, and her note was more one of triumph than of welcome.
"Why did you make this appointment?" he asked, scarcely caring what remark he made, so long as he had the exquisite pleasure of talking to her again.
"It was difficult for me to get to Rome, and this house is in a dangerous spot—even for Rome."
"Could I receive you in my own palace?" she asked, "when you have given me a jealous old husband?
"I give you!" he protested. "My dear Camilla, you married the man yourself—it was your own idea."
"What was I to do?" asked the lady mournfully. "Since you dismissed me, I had to seek another protector."
He did not remind her of her pension. Why ruin with recriminations this delicious moment of reunion? He took his seat beside her on the sofa, and with a sigh unclasped her cloak and laid his head on her bare bosom; and she caressed his smooth cheek and long curls with familiar tenderness.
"I would not have believed," he sighed, "that you could so soon forget an injury."
"An injury?" she repeated, as if she had never heard the word before.
"Oh, Camilla, of course I did you a gross injury when I sent you away from Florence, and I thought you would revenge it on me by refusing to see me again."
"Revenge?" repeated the lady again as if the word was alien.
"Do not let us talk of such ugly things, my love. Only tell me that you love me still and are pleased to see me again." And he ended with pleading in his voice.
"The fact that I am here is sufficient to show that I still love you," said the lady mournfully. "I also take risks, though I am, compared to you, Porphyrios, a most unimportant person. But my husband has his notions of honour, even though he knows my past history he is very jealous of my newly acquired virtue, and if he should discover that I had given you an assignation here, my life would not be safe for half an hour. He is an adept in removing those he dislikes."
"Why," exclaimed Porphyrios, half angry, "did you marry such a narrow-minded and dangerous man? However, we will not trouble ourselves about him—I want you to return with me to Tuscany."
"But you also are going to be married, are you not?" said the lady; and she rose from the sofa and began to set out a service of silvered porcelain. "You will need some coffee and refreshments," she smiled. "You must have come a long and tedious way."
"I am to be married, it's true," agreed Porphyrios sullenly, "but that, as you know, is a matter of State. I shall see as little as possible of my new wife, who is thirty years old, plain and bigoted; and you shall have precedence on all possible occasions."
"In short," said Camilla delicately, "your discarded mistress will return in triumph. What will all your friends and my enemies say to that?"
"I do not care what they say," said Porphyrios. "I want you above everything. Life goes to a different melody when you are near me." And he looked with the greatest gratification at her extraordinary beauty, as she moved about preparing the coffee.
The room was a charming setting to these remarkable charms of hers, for it had been arranged, with some art, as a temple for sweet, stolen interviews and delicious private love affairs. The walls were covered with pale green watered silk; the furniture was delicate and gilded; the tables were of pale alabaster; the couches were piled with down cushions and the windows were hung with thick velvet curtains; and there were many mirrors on the walls, so that the occupants of the secret chamber above the sweet shop should be able to see themselves and the object of their adoration in all the delicious attitudes of surrendered love, repeated again and again from every possible angle.
"It is six months since we have seen each other," mused Antonia Camilla, "and you are not in the least changed."
"But you are more beautiful," declared Porphyrios, "even than my fervent longing painted you; and if you will only return to Florence I will put Tuscany beneath your feet."
At this he rose and would have taken her in his arms, but she put him by, saying he would spill her coffee, which she had just heated and which was giving out a pungent aroma. But Porphyrios would have none of this, and took his beloved frankly in his arms, and held her close and told her all her praises, and how he would never allow her out of his sight again, and what he would do for her when he had her again in Florence; and how she should set her foot on all who had opposed her and called her wanton and profligate and extravagant, and even spy. He would dispose them in their several places, and listen no more to their vicious conversations; he would even force them to promise to do her homage. How she should live in every profuseness and magnificence, and be the greatest, noblest figure in all Tuscany!
Antonia Camilla listened to this with downcast eyes. "And what title have I to all this greatness?" she asked.
"Your whole title is that you continue to love me."
"Can one control love?" said the lady softly. "Does it come and go as one calls it—if one is once cast off, can one come back again? I am married now to an old and jealous man, who rates me pretty high."
"But not so high as I do," cried Porphyrios with some indignation, still holding her close. "And who is he? We may pension him or remove him. You are my incomparable love, and nothing more must be set between us."
"All extremes are pernicious," said the lady. "Love me with more moderation." And she escaped from him and served him with his coffee.
Porphyrios, looking all round the room, saw her loveliness repeated again and again in the many mirrors, and felt grateful towards whoever had hung them there, so admirably to extol his lady's beauty by reflecting it so often; then Porphyrios, waiting in delight for the return of all the joys he had once known with this lady, wondered idly if he really knew her, and if any of the images he saw reflected round the room were the lady herself. He, indeed, was aware of nothing about her save the fact that she inspired him with love. She might be sordid and covetous, violent and mean, for all he knew of her—and what did it matter?
The lady now approached him, and when he had drunk his coffee—looking on her the while with doting glances of extreme love—she said:
"It is a beautiful night, and I feel stifled in this room. The moonlight is delicious, and I suggest that we should take a promenade in the Coliseum?"
Porphyrios set his coffee-cup back on the tray, and the lady perceived that the look on his face had become fixed, and was no longer soft and melting, but of an odd hardness. However, he said quietly:
"Certainly, if you wish, we will take a promenade in the Coliseum."
He rose at once and put on his hat and cloak.
"You are not offended, are you?" asked the lady, a little aggrieved by his coldness and the sudden change that had come upon the ardour of his glances.
"Of course I am not offended," he replied; and he looked again round the mirrors at all the images of Antonia Camilla.
They went down the silent stairs and through the shop that was filled with sweetmeats waiting to be sold on the morrow, and out into the open space where were the two ruined columns, the sleeping goatherd and the kids, and past the fountain where the gladiators washed their wounds, till they came to the Coliseum; and all the while the lady hung on his arm.
They entered the intense darkness of one of the entrance arches, and came out on to the wide brightness of the arena, filled with tumbled masonry and tall trees, and shrubs and plants, all misted and grey in the moonlight. But Antonia Camilla said that she did not wish to wander there, but to promenade above the tiers of the boxes, and particularly to the Imperial box above the main entrance, where the Emperor used to sit; and this was precisely where Porphyrios had seen the two assassins waiting.
He did not move when the lady expressed this desire, but sat down on one of the stones and thought of how he had treated Antonia Camilla, casting her away with a pension to a marriage with an old man; and how unlikely it was that she would never forgive this. How little he had known of her to expect that she would forgive it, and what a complete fool he had been to come from Florence to Rome to trust himself to this wronged woman!
The lady became impatient.
"We shorten the night," she said, "by dallying too long here. Will you not come and make my favourite promenade with me?"
This time he rose, and allowed her to conduct him to the ruins of the Imperial box. How dark and gigantic the Coliseum looked, and how clear and bright was the sky above, and how strange their destiny—these two lovers, one conducting the other to the place where two assassins lurked; and when they had nearly reached it, Porphyrios paused and said:
"This is a melancholy spot for us to say good-bye. I should never have come, Antonia Camilla. I might have known that you could never forgive."
And he saw, as he glanced away from her intense and terrified face, the two assassins were approaching him, their hats pulled over their eyes and their arms raised and hidden by their cloaks.
"Those two men are coming to murder me at your instigation," sighed Porphyrios quietly, "and I am sorry that we should have come to this, Camilla."
The lady hesitated, but, seeing the two ruffians hastily approaching, she said:
"You were a fool to suppose that I should forgive. You were a fool not to guess that there would be someone who could pay me even higher than you—that rely revenge would chime with my interest. My husband is a spy of France, and I serve him as well as I once served you. And now, good night to Your Highness, for these men are here to put you to death."
But Porphyrios had already covered the two approaching murderers with his pistol, and they cowered back, surprised and confounded; for they could only attack the undefended and the unsuspecting—whenever they were faced, they fled, as they fled now squealing, scrambling and stumbling over the ruins and dropping out of their wallets the money that Herr Stoppelmann had paid them for the antiquities.
"You see," said Porphyrios, "my only misfortune to-night is to be the misfortune of losing you." And he looked at her mournfully. Here in the monstrous ruins of the Coliseum, under the bright moon in the pale sky, they stared at each other most intently; and then she again essayed her fate, and struck him with a bodkin she had in her breast, so that the blood ran down his wrist from the slight wound she had made, and Porphyrios laughed unhappily.
"Shall I escort you back to your lodging?" he asked mournfully.
But the lady turned and left him, and walked alone through the blackness of the Imperial box; he was quite sure that she still loved him.
Porphyrios sat down and mused bitterly. He did not notice that the blood was running from the scratch on the back of his wrist over the flowers that grew by his side; tall bell-like flowers rising elegantly from amid brambles. How clumsy he had been; why did he not follow Camilla; before morning she would betray him, of course: but it would be worth it, to a man of spirit.
Herr Stoppelmann had lost his way, and, as the Coliseum was the most conspicuous object in the city, he had made his way back there, intending, if need be, to pass the night under the arches, which despite his meeting with the assassins seemed to him to be safer than the narrow streets or the deserted temples full of sinister figures; seeing a tall purple flower growing in the moonlight he exclaimed foolishly: "Ah, sir, have you found the jacinth?"
"It is a white flower stained with my blood," replied Porphyrios, looking down mournfully. "That is the only purple jacinth you will find in the Coliseum."
Herr Stoppelmann remembered the lady, the two assassins, and queried the rest. Porphyrios with a sigh bound up his wrist, said good night to Herr Stoppelmann, and went his way, which was not the way to the sweet shop.
When the horticulturist came to write his diary of his journey abroad for the benefit of his Serene Electoral Highness, he put in this incident, told with many illustrations from classical authors. But he could not explain it; nor, he felt sure, could Porphyrios.
"Who was Porphyrios?" asked His Serene Highness bored with the diary; and that Herr Stoppelmann could not tell either. But when he was sent, some years later, to the Court of Florence with a present of variegated tulips for the Grand Duke, he was astonished to see in this gentleman the stranger of that promenade in the Coliseum; or to believe that he saw this; discretion made him dubious of his own senses.
The Grand Duke did not appear to recognize him, and Herr Stoppelmann did not venture to recall their mutual adventure to his mind. But later, Herr Stoppelmann strolled in the gardens with His Highness Karl Ferdinand Maria, Archduke of Austria and Grand Duke of Tuscany, who showed him his red Roman nectarines and other tempting fruit growing plentifully on the walls, and told him how he had hung there three bottles of mixture to keep away the wasps. Herr Stoppelmann interrupted to say how neats' feet kept off earwigs, "which are pernicious," he added. "Nor ought you to be less diligent to prevent the ants, which above all invade the orange flower. Cast scalding brine on their hills and other haunts. Look diligently under the leaves of mural trees for snails—they stick commonly somewhat above the fruit. Do not nip off the bitten leaves, for then they will certainly begin afresh."
Here His Highness checked Herr Stoppelmann, who was again inclined to think he was in a chair at Leyden, and to talk a great deal too much, though no doubt to good purpose.
"None of your glasses of beer to entice wasps and flies is of much use," he smiled. "They will get the peach just the same, even if they perish afterwards. And, believe me, my dear Herr Stoppelmann, they will think it worth it. I was once in that situation. To avoid a trap baited with poisoned honey, I left my peach untasted, and, believe me, I have regretted it ever since."
Herr Stoppelmann was left to his own reflections on this matter, and to decide whether or no it dealt with the promenade in the Coliseum—and if so, whether it indicated that His Highness regretted, not the folly which had led him into the trap, but the wisdom with which he had extricated himself...
"I believe," thought Herr Stoppelmann, "that is probably what he means, he was so fond of that lady that he would rather have had another hour or two of life with her and been slain—than lost her and escaped. He is sorry, not that he discovered her perfidy, but that he let her know he had discovered it. He regrets, not that he escaped, but that he did not eat his peach before he fell into the jar of sweets. The prize would have been worth the penalty—the sweetness worth the suffocation. I wonder," he reflected to himself, rubbing his long chin.
But His Highness, who seemed indifferent about most matters, proceeded in a leisurely manner to display the rest of his collection of peaches—the quince peach, the musk peach, the Grand Carnation, the Portugal peach, the Crown peach, the Savoy Malacotan "which," said His Highness, "has this advantage—that it lasts till Michaelmas, and few sweet delicious things have so long an enduring."
And a philosophic discussion on Love in the fountain court of a palace in Rome between
THE EXILED QUEEN - Christina of Sweden
THE PRINCESS - Princess Palatine
THE PHILOSOPHER - Mons. Rene Des Cartes
THE ORIENTALIST - Mons. Jean Bochart
THE PROFESSOR OF GREEK - Mons. - Isaac Vossius
THE CARDINAL - Cipriano degli Angell
THE LEARNED LADY - Frau Anna von Schurmann
THE MARQUIS - Eugenio della Ferranti
[ITALY. 18th Century.]
The hunted man paused at the corner of the street by the great fountain; from the wide lips of a marble river god, the purest of waters trickled into a huge white basin where the gossips met in the evening and the girls stayed to freshen beneath the crystal-clear drops the bouquets wilting from wearing over their warm bosoms.
It was the high blaze of noon and the streets were empty; green lattices shrouded the high narrow windows in the white facades of the houses built between the gigantic acanthus-crowned pillars of an antique temple.
The pursued man waited, listening to the distant footfalls of those upon his track.
He had little breath to run further, but he began to hope he had outdistanced them and that they had lost their way in the great city so silent in the midday heat. As his strength returned he moved on cautiously; there was a bullet-hole in his purple cloak; he contemplated this with a sly smile.
In the last fortnight his life had been attempted several times, but never so openly and audaciously as on this occasion.
A yellow and scarlet parakeet shrieked, high on a shaded balcony, and the man knew the extent of his own fear by the great start he gave and the urging movement of his tired feet.
He could surely hear them again, he could just see them rounding the angle of the white houses by the marble fountain...snatching at chance he turned into a black archway which led to a cellar of a small, unguarded fruit-store, half-beneath the pavement.
From among piles of water melons, damp yellow and green figs, overripe bursting plums and the last grapes swarming with tiny flies, he peered up into the street and watched his would-be assassins go swiftly past.
They had, then, missed him; the moment he was safe he became ashamed of his fear, but consoled himself for this shame by the reflection that in the first struggle he had been totally disarmed; the ruffians coming behind had cut his sword-strap and soon wrested from him the dagger he wore in his belt. It was a miracle (though he did not know what god he must thank for it) that he had escaped.
He was exhausted from running and, frowning at his unworthy situation, he flung himself down on a pile of hempen sacks filled with onions and salad which had been brought up that morning from the country.
The fugitive wiped the sweat from his throbbing forehead and endeavoured to set straight the habit which had been so rich and precise when he left his apartments an hour ago.
A girl came from the shadows at the back of the store; from the inner room she had heard his movements and she expected a customer.
She was amazed both at his splendour and his disorder and stood silent, contemplating him; the hunted man returned her scrutiny with equal interest for, although he had seen many such girls walking in the streets of Rome, the circumstances of their meeting gave a peculiar emphasis to the beauty of this peasant, and, to the man's heated imagination, she seemed almost like a saint or goddess whom he had evoked for his salvation.
Her skirt was of faded blue-dyed linen, her bodice of white linen, and a faded kerchief of many colours was folded on her bosom; this barely concealed and did not disguise her shapeliness. Her arms and neck were bare and there was nothing on her glossy black hair but a classic fillet of thin silver which served to keep her heavy locks in place.
The young man rose, uneasy at having been discovered in so undignified a position; his eyes had become used to the warm murk of the cellar shop, and he could now discern on all sides richness and colour piled high, the dark green mottled sides of gourds and pumpkins beside the vermilion skins of love-apples, the opulence of bruised peaches and crimson nectarines set on curly green leaves, wilting in the heat; pears hanging by azure strings from hooks in the walls, and red earthenware jars holding plumey clusters of sweet basil tied together by scarlet ribbons.
The girl asked if he wished to make a purchase and he replied ruefully that he believed he had no money; but he pulled off a small gold ring which he had always disliked and offered it to the girl in exchange for a drink of water and five minutes in which to recover his composure. The price he offered for these small favours was high, but he intended the ring as an oblation to the goddess of good luck.
The girl stared at the ring, turning it over in her brown palm. She told him (he did not know why) that her name was Marianna, then she stared at him again, at his purple cloak with the bullet-hole, his costly habit, laced and prinked with silver, his falling collar of heavy lace, his curls of a thick amber-brown, his smooth, warm-coloured, southern face, which was given an alert and eager expression by the slight upward turn of eyebrows and nostrils, and the odd, sly lift at the corners of the full lips.
Without comment she brought him precisely what he had asked for—an earthenware jug full of the famous Roman water brought by the Claudian aqueduct from the Sabine hills. The red pottery was cool, damp and delicious to the touch; the young man drank eagerly from the jug. Marianna handed him figs, heavy with the hopes of Autumn, bruised with their own rich sweetness.
"You have been in some danger?" she said.
"Yes, ah, yes; there are certainly some rascals who desire my life, but I suppose that is not such an uncommon thing in Rome."
"You should defend yourself."
"I do what I can—I even wear under this habit a corselet of stout steel—"
"I mean," replied the girl, "you should ask protection from His Holiness the Pope, or one of the great princes of the city."
"There are many excellent reasons why I cannot do that. I am a foreigner here."
"Yet you speak our language very well; of what nation are you? And what, if I may have the courage to ask as much, is your name?"
The young cavalier had recovered his spirits and with his spirits a certain effrontery which, however, did not pass the limit of good breeding.
"I come from Spain—Valentia, and my name is Eugenio; after all," he added, with a smile, "I daresay they were no more than common street thieves and rascals who attacked me."
"But in broad day!" exclaimed she, amazed; "and could you not, sir, have shouted for help? Though everyone is now asleep in the heat of the midday, still there would have been soon someone to your rescue."
"And I should have been despatched before they arrived," replied the young man. "No, sweet one, I know what I am about and, believe me, I have a powerful protector."
"Then, signor, I implore you to invoke this protector, whether it be of heaven or earth."
"My protector," smiled Eugenio, "is very much of earth."
He picked up his hat, which he had removed when Marianna entered, for he was very exact in all the niceties of courtesy, brushed the dust off it and adjusted the long feather.
Marianna turned the little gold ring, which was twisted in the form of two hearts, about on her palm, and appeared both amazed and bewildered. Eugenio, pausing in the doorway, suddenly knew that it was not the little gold ring that he disliked but the woman who had given it to him; he was as thankful to be rid of it as if it had been a thing of ill omen.
"Oh, signor," exclaimed the girl fearfully, "you will set forth again so soon? Will you not hide here?"
"Would you hide me?" he asked gaily.
"Why, certainly, signor; and you know," she added, with an ardent passion of eagerness, "this is really a very convenient place, it is built upon an old temple. You go down many, many steps and there is the ancient building, and beyond it a passage which leads right under the walls and out into the Campagna—"
"And catacombs," added Eugenio, with something of a shudder. He disliked all that was dark and underground.
"No one uses the passage now," urged Marianna. "Sometimes I and my brother for pure adventure go down there with candles, and we know our way very precisely now by means of a string, and, if it would be of any use to you?—"
Eugenio laughed, but not in derision, and thanked her tenderly for her kindness.
"I am, however, sweet one, quite sure of my protector, to whom I must now immediately recommend myself."
He left the dark, cool cellar shop with the girl standing there, and came out again into the street, smitten and dazzled by the excess of sunlight; he was then near his destination and feared no further attack; but he kept his slanting, dark eyes warily this way and that and his shrewd glance keenly in all doorways and passages. He left the streets and turned into a noble piazza, in the centre of which a basalt elephant bore a marble column on his back; in the shadow of the plinth of this monument a player of a hurdy-gurdy and a vendor of melons were asleep side by side—the instrument and the fruit were alike glossy and striped.
Eugenio took his way across the flat Roman pavement. A sharp flight of steps receded from a triple porch of a haughty church, where the sun picked out from hollows and blots of purple shadow gigantic figures of saints and martyrs who, with fluttering stone robes and hair, appeared to resist an invisible wind.
Eugenio, dainty and wary as a cat, sidled round the church; peering cautiously back he saw that the man with the hurdy-gurdy had come on his knees round the plinth of the elephant and castle, and had a carbine levelled at him.
Throwing up his cloak Eugenio ran agile and fleet-footed he gained the high iron gates of the palace which was his destination; they stood ajar; Eugenio slipped in, closed them, and peered through the metal scrolls and roses. The hurdy-gurdy player had not followed him; at a more easy pace he proceeded through the garden.
The drowsy peace of noon pervaded everything; there was a sense of eternity in this sleepy quiet; the dusty green of ilex trees hung over the whiteness of termini, the dry, curling leaves lay on the stone blocks of these guardians of the noon-like coronals.
In the shimmer of the fierce light the facade of the palace, rosy-gold, appeared as unsubstantial as a sunset cloud. Fine palms, jade-green lemons among their smooth leaves and lilies flecked with red and purple grew in the stone pots upheld by bronze fauns along the sun-swept terrace.
Eugenio was familiar here and he entered at once by the long window, grateful not only for this ultimate protection but for the relief from the glaring light.
The apartment was curtained in pale green; the lattices, also of this colour, admitted only a translucent light. In the centre of the marble floor a sunk pool filled the air with coolness; through the clear water grew the sharp leaves and the purple blossom of iris, and below, between the stems, swam small carp, glittering with a metallic brilliancy. In the centre of the pool a fine fountain cast a cascade of drops high into the shadowed atmosphere.
Beyond the fountain, in an alcove hung with straw-coloured silk, was a little group of people very well known to Eugenio, and occupied, as he so often found them occupied, in a philosophic discussion. The exiled Queen, who had resigned her throne out of caprice and extravagance, was the mistress and centre of this company, among whom Eugenio recognized the Cardinal Cipriano degli Angeli; Jean Bochart, the orientalist; Isaac Vossius, the professor of Greek; the Princess Palatine, who was shortly to become a Protestant Abbess; and Anna von Schurmann, the most learned blue-stocking from Utrecht; while, leaning over the back of the Queen's gilded chair, was the elegant French philosopher, Monsieur Des Cartes.
Eugenio was welcomed gaily by all these people with whom indeed he was tolerably familiar. The young Spaniard, who had played many parts in his short life, was known to the fantastic court of this discrowned Queen as the Marquis della Ferranti, Master of Her Majesty's Horse.
This titular office was a sinecure, but the young Marquis held another position not so easily explained, but infinitely powerful; he was the favourite of this Queen who had disdained marriage. She now beckoned him to her side and he took up a dutiful post at her footstool, grateful for the coolness of the room and the sense of safety that encompassed him. Here, at the very feet of his powerful protectress he need no longer fear the obscure designs of his enemies.
"We are having a philosophic discussion," said the Queen, "in which you, Eugenio, must join. The subject is no less than this: Which is the more powerful passion—love or hate?" She glanced round her learned circle.
And Eugenio glanced at her.
Slight and aquiline with eyes too large, vivid and brilliant for her thin face, the Queen appeared devoured by some inner ardour; even this drowsy noonday occasion found her keen and animated. She was curiously dressed in a cavalier's habit of white satin, heavily embroidered with steel, and her hair hung like a man's on to her thin shoulders. She wore a sword, a great diamond on her breast, and on her knee were the plumed hat and embroidered gauntlets of a gentleman's attire. The other two women in the company suffered themselves without dispute to be eclipsed by Her Majesty.
The Princess Palatine was exhausted by the misfortunes and passions of a life spent in exile and retreat. She already wore almost a religious garb. There was a fanatical belief in her dreamy eyes and what remained of her beauty, wasted in waiting, was no more than the perfume of her intelligence.
The learned lady from Utrecht was attired stiffly in the Dutch style, and chose every possible opportunity to display her pedantry; when she was forced to be silent and listen to the others her nervous fingers cut out an endless procession of figures of birds, Chinamen, fishes, stars, and monsters in paper—these were scattered all over the floor near the edges of her stiff silk skirt.
In secret amusement Eugenio listened to the discussion, inwardly he felt vastly superior to all the disputants; they seemed to him to have lost their wits in musty pedantry and to have no understanding of life as he, Eugenio Marquis della Ferranti, knew it. They spoke in soft, indifferent voices and their abstract arguments crossed and re-crossed each other in the lazy afternoon air as if they made a pattern of lace in the shadows.
Isaac Vossius, the Dutch professor of Greek, was so wise that he was credulous of everything. It was said of him that he could believe in anything save the Bible; while the Cardinal was such a tolerant man that he disagreed with nobody save those whose opinions differed from his own.
Both these men declared that the passion of Hate was far fiercer, more violent, and more powerful than the passion of Love.
Eugenio laughed in his sleeve at them for a pair of dry old fools.
The learned lady from Utrecht knew nothing of either love or hate, but kept up her part of the dispute by extracts from the classics, illustrated by modern verse and prose—Greek, Hebrew and Latin.
The Queen slipped her fingers into Eugenio's curls and remarked that they were somewhat disordered; then, in a louder voice, demanded the French philosopher's opinion on the matter of the discussion.
"Love or Hate—which is the stronger? You, who know the secrets of the human soul, must decide our difficulties."
The Frenchman's bright eyes twinkled under the heavy fringe of his wig.
"I have had," he said, "some visions in my time, but I do not know that any of them would throw light on this matter. I recall when I was in Germany, returned to the army after the Emperor's coronation, I was in winter quarters; I had no society whatever and no diversions of any kind. Luckily, neither had I any cares nor was I agitated by any passions, so that I remained shut up all day long—shut up with the stove and my own thoughts."
"And what sprang from this dismal seclusion?" asked Her Majesty.
The Frenchman glanced with irony at the Dutch man.
"I do not know; I tried to get away from pedantry, from rust, from the foolishness of those who speak nothing but Latin as soon as they have pulled a doctor's cap over their ears. In brief, I endeavoured to be a philosopher though always remaining a pious churchman and to do everything in the manner of a gentleman."
Eugenio smiled secretly and, putting up his fine hand, pressed the Queen's fingers.
Bochart, the orientalist, now began to talk of the pendulum, and Saturn's rings, and the new discoveries in astronomy.
The Queen bid him back to the point.
"You will make me think," she said, "that you are no more than dried specimens, such as one keeps in a case or a box and brings out for inspection in a particular company. Have you then, no passions—any of you? Cannot 'you tell me which is the more potent—Love or Hate?"
At this Des Cartes declared roundly for Hate, and ran over all—war, crime and impiety—which had been produced from this terrible force.
"And if," he added, "you ask me what Love has produced, I shall reply—very little, a stray good deed, an odd good work, here and there."
The Cardinal interrupted, for he felt he had not had enough of the conversation, and he wished to stave off the noontide drowsiness, he feared also to disgrace himself by dropping asleep and snoring in his too easy chair. Therefore he began to argue with more vigour than conviction on the power of Love.
"Love created God," he declared.
To which Bochart, the orientalist, countered: "But Hate created the Devil, and we all know, without reflection, who is the more powerful of the two!"
The Queen looked down at Eugenio.
"You have nothing to say?" she smiled. "Will you not enter into this interchange of pleasantries and let us know what is your opinion on this grave and weighty matter?"
Eugenio replied by glancing up with a confident smile. Well he knew the value of his shapely lips, his smooth features, his rich locks and brown complexion, his flattering tongue and his gay air; and well he knew her value—coy and fine, nobly born and by no means disposed to play the penitent in the desert.
"One must speak by experience," he said, "and according to one's age. In five-and-twenty years one has not been through as much as in five-and-sixty. Though I have learned a great deal of love, I am yet unversed in the powers of hate."
"Innocent and noble youth," murmured the Queen, "you are indeed well fitted to be the exponent of this mighty passion," and, with her hands on his shoulders, she half turned him about as if exhibiting him to the company.
"I suppose," said the French philosopher, rather sadly (for in his younger days he had been gallant and now regretted his wrinkles and his wig), "that you, madam, consider this youth, with his beauty and his comely carriage, his grace and his ease, worth all of us philosophers with our quips and our arguments, our science and our learning?"
"Possibly I do," admitted the Queen thoughtfully, and quoted the doctrine on which Malebranche built up his philosophy. "` So to judge all things according to its own inward life to the exclusion of all outward impressions produced by the mere senses and all the fantasies of the imagination; only that knowledge must be tried which teaches us what we are '."
She looked steadily at Eugenio; he noted the wrinkles under her large melancholy eyes.
He thought the moment appropriate to kiss her hand and murmur—"You have taught me to be what I am—your servant."
Smiling at this touching language the Queen did not appear to be further interested in the argument.
Seeing her thus, the Princess Palatine, who considered herself the Queen's dearest friend, clapped her hands and summoned an African page, who brought in drinks of sherbet and iced water in which floated slices of lemon.
The Queen now roused herself (she, as all the company, seemed drowsy) and asked them how the argument had concluded.
No one knew.
It was decided to give Eugenio the casting-vote.
"Why, Love is the stronger passion," declared he confidently and with a triumphant look at the Queen. "Love is like the sun and Hate is merely the black cloud that sometimes, but never entirely nor for long, obscures it."
"Eugenio has decided," sighed the Queen, and rose.
She walked towards the fountain and looked between the iris flags into the still water, broken only by the flash of the glittering fish. In her white satin, gold-tagged cavalier's dress she appeared a haggard youth, and her one beauty was the quantity of her fine curls which fell to her waist.
They left her with her favourite: the learned lady, the disappointed princess, the orientalist, the philosophers and the Cardinal—all took their leave of the discrowned Queen and entered coaches and chairs; with languid movements they yawned.
"How thankful I am that they have gone at last!" said Eugenio, approaching his mistress by the iris flowers; "I thought they would never leave, with their tedious arguments and fruitless discussion. Why, madam, do you encourage these tiresome and rusty pedants—these women who have forgotten their duties and never known love?"
The Queen put the toe of her soft boot on one of the paper figures that Anna von Schurmann had cut out and, fixing her large melancholy eyes on Eugenio, asked him why his dress was so disordered.
"I perceive," she added, "that there is a hole in your cloak, which appears also scorched."
"You bring me," said Eugenio, "exactly where I would be. You will remember that I was attacked in the streets of Rome, a few days ago?"
"I made nothing of it," smiled the Queen, "Rome is not a safe city for a well-dressed foreigner."
"But now you must make something of it," said Eugenio, "for again I have been waylaid and only with the greatest difficulty escaped with my life."
"How was it that you did escape?" she asked in low voice. And he triumphed to see the emotion which paled her thin cheeks. Those dusty idiots might well discuss which was the stronger—love or hate; he had no need to argue on the matter; the infatuation for this woman for him held not only safety but all high fortune. "Attacked?" she murmured, "someone tried to assassinate you?"
"Truly," said Eugenio; and he related to her the story of the attempt made upon him in the deserted noontide streets—how he had leapt into the salad-monger's cellar shop (he did not mention the girl), how he had been pursued by the assassins who had passed the door, and afterwards how the hurdy-gurdy man, who had seemed nothing but a beggar, had endeavoured to get him with a carbine, even at the gate of Her Majesty's palace.
"Who are your enemies?" murmured the Queen.
Eugenio protested that he had not the least notion.
"There are a complication of intrigues in Rome and somehow I have offended someone. There are those jealous of my favours with Your Majesty; perhaps I have incurred the enmity of someone who is altogether strange to me—how can I tell? This, at least, I know I am not safe in Rome."
"What shall we do?" asked the Queen.
"Leave Rome," he suggested, pressing her hand with the seriousness of a favoured lover.
"You rely on me?" she asked.
"And the power of love," smiled Eugenio charmingly.
She regarded him thoughtfully; never before to him had her eyes appeared so large, dark and mournful.
"You wish me to leave my beautiful villa, my elegant company of friends, a climate that suits me, and all the amenities of Rome, because you are in danger here?"
"My love," declared he on a superb note of passion, "will compensate you for all that you lose."
Christina pulled at the tips of the iris flags and watched the reflection of her own face in the dark waters below.
"Truly," she mused, in a low voice, "you have almost persuaded me that you love me, and as we have just decided in our argument that love is the most powerful of all passions it is therefore only just and fitting that for you I should abandon everything."
Smiling with triumph he pressed her hand.
"In Spain I should be safe."
"Would you—would not your enemies follow you?"
"How would that be possible when I am under your protection? I rely on your protection—the protection of love."
"I am tired of these terms of speech," said the Queen, in a low, moody voice. "I hear too many empty arguments. What did I not say just now? The only doctrine I can hold by...What is that—what is the truth of our own wretched little souls? Are we capable," she added rapidly, "of any pure and disinterested feeling—are we not merely full of arrogance, ambition and lust? Are not many of us utterly bewildered and incapable of distinguishing right from wrong? What is all this tremendous flow of words that surrounds us but the shameless invention of wicked men to torment us?"
Eugenio cared little for this speech.
"Madam, it is quite sufficient that we love each other," he pleaded, with all the ardour he could throw into his seductive voice and graceful person.
"It should be sufficient," agreed the Queen, sombrely.
"And I am in danger," he urged, "I scarcely dare leave your palace."
"And here you think you are safe?"
Eugenio observed that bars of sunshine falling through the lattice of the tall windows had become less on the marble floor and the air was of an oppressive and sultry heat.
"Madam, there is a storm coming up," he remarked; the Queen, in a low tone, bade him open the windows.
Eugenio did so and saw that the sky was covered with dark yellow clouds, that the leaves of the ilex trees were turned backwards by a low menacing breeze, that the flowers growing in the vases on the terrace appeared wilted, as if there were an acid in the air.
"A storm," breathed Eugenio, "how still everything is! Where is our late learned company?"
"They have all returned to the city," replied the Queen.
"But your household, your servants—they also seem abroad. Never have I noticed the palace so quiet."
"You and I are here, Eugenio, and that is sufficient," said Christina. "Presently, I do not think there will lack some few others to complete our joy."
He did not understand the meaning of this nor greatly trouble himself about it, for that she was often obscure in her speech and eccentric in her manner. Eugenio did not, indeed, greatly trouble himself about the Queen in any particular, he was so sure of her; rather than lose him she would leave Rome and journey with him anywhere, so that he was safe from his mysterious enemies. So, despite the gloom of the nearing storm, his spirits were light and easy, and he knew that the Queen was watching his beauty and elegance as in his rich and tasteful habit he leant at the open window.
The first flash of lightning darted behind the avenue of ilex trees and showed the looming whiteness of the gigantic termini, showed something else to the sharp eyes of Eugenio, which had become during the last few days so alert; this was the creeping figure of the man with the hurdy-gurdy who had levelled the carbine at him from behind the statue of the elephant and castle.
Starting back from the window Eugenio exclaimed:
"Madam, there is one of my would-be assassins actually within your garden I Pray call someone and have him arrested!"
The Queen came to the window and looked out for herself, though Eugenio cried out that she possibly put herself in some peril.
But Christina gazed steadily down the ilex avenue and into the tawny light of the gathering storm.
The man with the hurdy-gurdy leaned against one of the smooth grey stems of the dark trees and was now turning the handle of his little instrument, which emitted a brisk yet squeaky melody.
"It is only a poor beggar," she said indifferently, "why should you disturb yourself for nothing? If this is the worst you have seen, I believe you are the victim of a fantastical imagination, Eugenio."
Still turning the handle of his instrument the hurdy-gurdy man came up the empty avenue of ilex trees.
Eugenio clapped his hand to his side to realize that he had not replaced his sword of which he had been despoiled in the street.
Alarmed by the still attitude of the Queen, whom he believed paralysed with fright, he began to call for assistance, shouting up one by one the members of the household, but there was no reply from the marble arches of the palace then filled with dun shadows. Infuriated by this silence Eugenio ran to the doorway, which was usually shrouded by a thick silk curtain, but now when he raised this he found the bronze portals in place and locked; he hurled himself on the other entrance, through which had come the learned company of the philosophic discussion; here, a grille had been fastened in place.
Eugenio was a prisoner in the marble room with the iris pool—a prisoner, unarmed. There was but one way of escape and that through the window and down the ilex avenue, up which had come the man with the hurdy-gurdy.
"There has been some treachery here, as I take it!" he cried fiercely, turning on his mistress.
"There seems to have been treachery enough," whispered the Queen, without looking at him.
"Madam, how is it possible—the palace empty—no one answered to my shouts—both the doors fastened upon us—who is this assassin creeping up the avenue?"
"A musician," replied the Queen, "he plays an elegy for a fool."
"Madam! Christina!" exclaimed the young man, drawing back from the window-place, "I am unarmed; I lost my sword in the streets. I came straight to you and did not think of taking other weapons—"
"I said an elegy for a fool," repeated the Queen, and turned round on him, her hands on her hips, with such an expression of pain and contempt on her face as caused him to utter a cry of alarm.
"You came to me, you were safe with me, because I was a queen, and you were my lover? Love is the stronger passion, eh? You have had no experience of hate? I will enlarge your knowledge of women and the world."
The trapped man began to perceive that she was his enemy.
"How is this possible?" he shuddered.
She pulled out a package of letters from the pocket of her masculine coat.
"You have a mistress in Valentia, younger than I, more beautiful, more charming—a woman whom you really love, a woman to whom you write lightly of me. For a month I have been intercepting your letters. You would be safe in Spain—and near her, eh?"
"Madam, I never wrote them—they are forgeries," he lied desperately.
"I know your hand, my Eugenio, and more, I know your heart and your mind...These are your words' She is not young, you have no cause to be jealous; she never has been fair, you have no reason to be peevish, for I do very well by her favour. I shall grow great by her infatuation. She is surrounded by fools who know not how to take advantage of her. You must not be angry with me if I have persuaded her I love her, for our fortune hangs upon my success.' Was it not foolish, my Eugenio, to write these things and trust them to the post?"
"There has been treachery!" he cried, "I swear there has been treachery!"
"Enough to shame Judas, but swear no more—"
The hurdy-gurdy man had approached nearer and then, still turning the handle of his instrument, he mounted the terrace. The thunder began to roll in the clouds and the lightning to flash the quicker over the empty ilex avenue.
The young man fell back before the Queen's eyes.
"You, was it you?" he stammered. "You cannot mean assassination?"
"Why should I not? You see, after all, you understand very little, Eugenio. The wise men were right when they argued that the power of hate was stronger. You shall see how powerful it is."
Even then he could scarcely credit his atrocious destiny.
"Do you mean that you set those assassins on me, that you have trapped me here with these closed doors, knowing me unarmed and trusting you?"
"I trusted you," said Christina.
"But I—I never thought of murder."
"I would as soon be slain as mocked at," said the Queen, and, leaning from the window, she beckoned to the hurdy-gurdy man, who placed his instrument by the pot of wilting agaves and crept across the terrace where, on the hot stone, the round drops of rain were falling.
Eugenio's throat was dry and his shapely limbs shuddering. It was as intolerable as incredible. He had walked smiling, claiming protection, into this hideous trap. Hatred for the woman shook him. How it had always sickened him to have to pretend to love her—she, with her eccentricities, her cruelties, her treacheries!
"It is true that I have been a fool," he stammered, "but you—what are you?"
"That is what you may now judge," she said, turning on him. "Did I not say that was all I held by—the truth? This is my truth, for what you have done to me I will see you destroyed." She lifted her lips at him like a cat he had once seen ready to fly at its fellow.
The hurdy-gurdy man, a tall, sinewy ruffian with a beastly countenance, blocked up the window beside her.
Eugenio snatched off his cloak and cast it over the head of this ugly fellow and, in this second's respite, fled down the ilex avenue. They would be guarding the gates, but he knew another way out of the villa garden. He ran, ran, ran, thankful for the rain splashing on to the hot marble flags and the dust beneath the ilex trees, rattling on the dry leaves and staining the dry whiteness of the watching termini.
By the wide secret pool where the nymphs of Diana were still supposed to bathe on moonlit nights of June, past the water organ where Tritons formed of shells grinned at him, through a grove of olives, where grey-pink doves sheltered from the storm in a temple dedicated to Venus, Eugenio fled.
A leap over a parapet, a drop from a wall, helped by the hanging branches of flowers which tore his hands, and Eugenio was again in the streets of Rome, now emptied by the storm as they had, a few hours before, been emptied by the noontide sun.
She would have set spies for him everywhere; he paused, panting, and considered what he should do—friendless, penniless, a stranger, and pursued—so, in a few moments had his fortunes fallen!
In his angry distress he recalled the girl in the fruit store and her talk of a way of escape through the catacombs and subterranean passages, ancient temples and forgotten grave vaults. The lightning flashed behind the florid cornice of the ruined temple of Mars the Avenger. The white goats browsing on the scant weeds among the columns once dedicated to Jove the Thunderer ran bleating for shelter into an archway where Latin letters, a foot long, recorded the glories of a forgotten hero.
Eugenio ran, doubled, turned and came to the vegetable shop half-sunk beneath the cracked marble pavement.
Marianna was there, silent among her wares, still turning over on her brown palm the ring he had given her and which the Queen had given him.
"Child, you see, I have come back," he gasped, "I want you to help me—"
"God be praised!" she said simply. "They are after you even now?"
"I do not know—I hope they have not seen where I went, but it is not safe for me in the streets of Rome."
"And the protection you spoke of?"
"That failed me entirely. I have no hope but in you, Marianna."
Again the girl said joyously:
"God be praised!"
She beckoned to him to follow her without more ado, and led him through a room at the back, then down a wooden ladder, she holding a burning lanthorn; so they came out of the storm-darkened streets into the quiet sombreness of the underground cellars, where amphori of Roman wine were piled round an alabaster altar. Following the girl with the light, Eugenio traversed passage after passage until they reached a round and lofty chamber. Here she lit two candles and, swiftly as she had escorted him from the shop, he now perceived that she had brought with her all his necessities—a knife, bread, cheese, wine, fruit—all which she took adroitly from her apron and laid on the mosaic floor of the underground chamber.
"From here you can very easily get out into the Campagna," she said, "you will want nothing but a little money."
"I have two diamond studs which, perhaps, if you are clever you can sell for me."
He was not thinking of what he said, but of the beauty of the girl—her dewy eyes, her blooming cheeks, the lines, the light and lustre of her rich youth.
Earnestly she assured him of his safety, no one would think of looking here—"And you may escape, signor, when you will."
"But to-night I shall stay here," he replied, pressing her hand.
"I must go now," she said, "but I will return and bring you a pillow."
He allowed her to go; in the confidence of delight he awaited her return.
Eugenio was at ease and peaceful in the underground mosaic chamber; while he waited for Marianna he stretched himself at ease; ate some fruit, smoothed his hair. How delicious to escape from the hate of a Queen and, deep in the earth, to embrace one who was more than a queen—a goddess, young, lovely, fresh.
Then, recalling her stupid discussion, Eugenio laughed aloud; he had been right, after all. Love was the stronger passion.
The candles glittered on the gilt mosaic; he heard her light tread and saw her small lamp...
"When the sun grows troublesome it was the custom to
draw a covering or veil quite over the Amphitheatre. This veil they
oftentimes made of silk, dy'd with scarlet, purple or some such rich colour.
The effect the colour of this veil had upon the audience that sat under it is
finely described by Lucretius." ("Remarks on several Parts of Europe," by J.
Breval, Esquire, 1726.) [ITALY, 18th Century.]
At precisely the same moment as the Conde Florio de Moncada's travelling equipage swung into the courtyard of "The Lily Pot" a lady was alighting from a white jennet at the door of that hostelry.
She was attended only by a small Indian groom and seemed too elegant to be travelling thus unescorted.
As the coach, the sun glittering on the pale green varnish and the coat with twenty quarterings on the panels, drew up by the wide entrance of "The Lily Pot" the Conde Flaminio de Moncada glanced from the window and whispered excitedly:
"There she is Florio, come you must admit that it is becoming very interesting."
The elder gentleman smiled indulgently at his brother:
"We will remain in the coach till she has gone into the inn."
Flaminio smiled also; for a week the lady on the white jennet had travelled the same road, stayed at the same inns and taken no notice of their existence; her behaviour had been as decorous as her mode of journeying was strange; both had obliged the brothers to notice her very particularly; a beautiful creature without a doubt, and well-bred.
The lady slipped modestly into the inn, which was soon in a hubbub over the arrival of my lords of Moncada; two Spanish noblemen travelling for health and pleasure...eh, but a grand entourage...the post chaises followed; my lords brought their own valets, grooms, cooks, barbers...twenty liveried attendants...a severe hooded dame, who was nurse to the younger gentleman, a woman to wait on her...eh, "The Lily Pot" was used to splendour, but padrone, lackeys, ostlers, chambermaids were eagerly impressed by this display...a courier had bespoken rooms days before...the whole of the piano mobile for the two foreign Excellencies...one was ill, be it understood, eh, but a pity! Verona had been ransacked for luxuries—early peaches, apricots, pineapples, for the invalid; the courier had brought feather-beds and silk hangings with him; the padrone bowed these great ones into the fine apartments overlooking the gardens, nervously wished these better, timidly hoped these were not too mean...for their Excellencies?
And behind his humble protestations of duty was a sharp flicker of curiosity; the courier, a cunning Levantine, very able at his work, had whispered something of the history of his two masters.
"The affection between them—it was prodigious! their wealth, extraordinary!—but, what would you? Some bitter drop in the cup we must all have, and the Conde Flaminio was ill, dying, perhaps! A wound received in a duel had caused a malady in the chest, and consider this, the lady who was the cause of the duel had forsaken him for his rival, and ever since his brother has been carrying him from place to place, from doctor to doctor, in the endeavour to please and distract him, and the oddest thing is that they contrive to be perfectly happy."
The Conde Florio courteously thanked the landlord for his attention and ordered a light collation...the chambers were very good; the walls painted with sea-nymphs who offered branches of coral to plumed heroes on silver ships; the wide windows stood open on a garden full of palms, lilies, carnations and pepper trees like green foam; the sharp brightness of noon filled the Verona sky.
Leonilda the nurse with the long puckered yellow face, tenderly arranged the Conde Flaminio on a couch by the window and gave him one of her own brewed cordials; the sick man turned his graceful head on the violet pillows and looked across the garden; the lady of the white jennet, forgotten by all, was seated in the shade of the yellow marble wall; she had a musing air and did not look up at the windows.
"Florio, she is really very charming and she reminds me of Isabella."
The elder brother glanced sharply out of the window; this was the first time he had heard that name since Isabella had married Flaminio's rival; yes, the girl appeared gentle, sad and pleasing in the blue shadow; some azure rosy doves were about her feet, she seemed their sister.
"Flaminio, she must be no better than a vagabond—to travel alone."
"I suppose so," the other sighed and smiled. "But is it not peculiar that she is on the same road with us—at the same inn continuously?"
"No doubt, but if it amuses you at all, my dear brother, I am very glad."
Their own lackeys, in liveries of black and green, served iced sherbet, hollowed oranges filled with jellies, candied melons and marchpane; a delicate shadow obscured the cool chamber. Florio anxiously studied his brother to see if he had suffered from the fatigue of travel; the wasted face, still so noble and handsome, was very like his own, the thin haughty countenance of an Andalusian cavalier, the nose a fine aquiline, the arched upper lip darkened, the outline clear, the complexion sallow but pure, the eyes of a dramatic darkness, the eyebrows sweeping, and the rippling hair so black that all the anxious barber's pomade could scarcely darken the thick ringlets...all through Italy the severe faces, the costly heavy clothes, brocades, velvets, embroideries of the Spanish grandees had been stared at for their quality of exotic bravura.
The beauty of the younger brother had not been eclipsed by his malady; his complexion was like amber-tinted alabaster and a faint shade of violet increased the melancholy shadow of his eyes; but the elder brother was flushed richly with warm blood and his glance was lively with a thousand pleasures, enjoyed and anticipated.
"Already I love Verona, we shall stay here a long while, shall we not, Florio?—" He interrupted himself: "Look who has come into the garden!"
Florio glanced over his brother's couch, a company of four dingy men were pacing in front of where the lady sat musing amid the doves; they were too nondescript to be respectable; all heavy, sombre, shabby, they had rather the air of hired bravos; Florio had noticed them at the last stopping-place, well, he had considerable treasure and Italy was infested with thieves...
Two by two they paced up and down, talking together; the lady was munching biscuits which she took neatly from a silver paper; when she threw the paper away one of the loiterers picked it up and put it in his pocket.
"It is very disagreeable for a gentlewoman to travel alone," murmured Flaminio gazing from his cushion at this scene. "Should we not offer her some protection?"
"She needs none," replied Florio. "They are not speaking to her, and it is not so disagreeable to a gentlewoman to travel alone that none of them do it." To distract his brother he brought out his most recent purchase; everywhere they travelled he bought rare, costly and foolish objects to amuse Flaminio; this last toy was a suite of gold medals that had cost a great sum and had been snatched from the agent of a princely collector; there was a Victoria Othonis, accounted unique, two brass Latins (the Greek being common enough) of the same Emperor, a Pax and a Securitas, besides the greatest curiosities of all, a collection of those medals called Spintriae, which Tiberius struck in his delicious retreat at Capreae to commemorate his darling pleasures.
Flaminio discovered but a languid enthusiasm for these treasures; Florio called in the violins and when the music had discoursed for an hour the sick man was asleep.
The lady was alone again in the garden; when the Conde de Moncada went downstairs he discovered the four ill-looking fellows in the common parlour; too quiet, too withdrawn, one in a book, one in the Gazette, two in dice-throwing.
De Moncada beckoned up the padrone hovering anxiously at his service:
"Who were the four ruffians? He had seen them before—though he was well escorted, an attempted robbery would be disagreeable."
The padrone was overwhelmed; the strangers had seemed what they pretended—harmless, petty merchants, but he would make enquiries...De Moncada cut short nervous protestations...it was no matter, he regretted having spoken, it was, after all, rather beneath a Moncada to express suspicion or anxiety.
He went alone into the streets of Verona, where the rosy red and tawny yellow palaces threw violet shadows across the splendour of the afternoon; he observed, with a distant curiosity, the life he saw about him, of market, shop, church and street; he was so used to his own magnificent existence and fitted into it so perfectly that the existence of anyone placed in other conditions seemed to him not only gross and ridiculous, but false.
De Moncada intended to carry his brother to visit the several curiosities of this city older than Rome; the cabinet of rarities belonging to Prince Moscardo, the gardens of the Marchese Giusti and the tomb of Pope Lucius, but now was at a stand for occupation, and out of pure idleness, crossed the Adige and walked about the marble amphitheatre; this Roman ruin, so vast and melancholy, was overgrown with wild flowers, vines and grasses; the lower stories were converted into warehouses, stables and haylofts; in the arena the tumblers in scarlet trousers performed their contortions before a ring of children and idlers; in the huge bare area this group appeared as small and as bright as insects.
De Moncada walked on the broken masonry above the seats where the nobles of old Rome had once watched the chariot-races; it was scarcely with surprise that he came upon the lady of the white jennet; she was seated on the overturned capital of a fluted column and had plucked a bouquet of wild aster from the ruins; this, De Moncada knew, was a pagan flower dedicated to the spirits of evil.
It seemed imperative that they should speak, if only because she so deliberately looked away from him and because the place was strange, lonely, delightful.
De Moncada uncovered, paused, bowed.
"Do you not, signora, find these solitary walks, this unprotected travelling, perilous?"
She looked at him and blushed slowly; she had that quiet beauty which is pathetic in its air of resignation to the heritage of loneliness; an Italian, surely one of the honey-fair women of Siena with smooth, heavy hair and dusky gold eyes; she pleased his fastidious, alert taste.
"You, signor," she answered softly, "are the first who has spoken to me in ten days' travel."
He did not know if this was wit or innocency and asked her, smiling, if she intended a rebuke?
"A rebuke? I am so grateful for any company." Her expression was of a childlike candour which caused him to mistrust her profoundly, and to linger in her society.
"I was watching the tumblers—how far away they seem," she added. "How vast the arena is! How melancholy!"
De Moncada told her that during the heat of summer festivals the whole of that mighty area used to be covered with a veil made of silk, dyed with purple and scarlet and spangled with stars...
"Lucretius wrote a poem on the effect of this starry canopy on the people who sat beneath—the glare of common day being excluded, they came to believe themselves, beneath the rich Campanian luxury, transported into Heaven, and in that rosy light, felt neither the defects of others nor their own disgraces."
The lady answered this formal speech with enthusiastic candour.
"Oh, that such a starry canopy might fall over one's own life and actions!"
"Are you, then, unhappy or distracted?"
She rose; he admired her gown of striped saffron taffeta, her hat of Livorno straw, her comely shape and her modest allure, he was quite unprepared for her next words.
"Oh, how can you, sunk in sloth and extravagance, understand such as I?"
At this hint that he was despised the grandee frowned, and became even more impassive than was his wont.
"If you would care to confide in me, signora, you would discover that I do not lack width of sympathy."
But the lady turned away hurriedly, protesting that her story was too commonplace to endure his august scrutiny...all she would say was that her name was Faustina, that she travelled on urgent business of her own and that she begged him to put one so unworthy out of his mind...
"An accomplished hypocrite," thought De Moncada, and paid her far more attention than he would have paid to a simpleton; "one is not a hypocrite for nothing, and when one is lovely, it is worth while to discover what is beneath the deception."
But Faustina's last remark, made as she turned away, had no savour of hypocrisy.
"You, signor, have contrived to draw the starry veil, the rosy canopy, so completely over your own existence that your life is entirely artificial, would you not sometimes care to see things in the common light of truth?"
She seemed too mournful and disappointed to wait for an answer, nor had De Moncada any to offer to such an obvious absurdity; because he was wealthy, idle, elegant, extravagant, was he less a human being than the beggar nursing his sores and dining off black bread and onions?
He watched her walking with a mournful air, along the marble ruins, the asters, the colour of a winter sky, in her hands, and the hem of her dress disturbing the fine ferns that grew round the acanthus leaves of fallen pillars.
"She will contrive another meeting very soon," he thought.
Even sooner than he had believed, and in a manner in which he had not considered possible; he was playing chess that evening with his brother in the piano nobile of "The Lily Pot" when the painted door flew open and she broke in upon them; her tumult of distress was as startling as her entry; it appeared as if she was pursued; De Moncada sprang up and Flaminio raised himself on his couch, scattering the glittering chess-pieces on the shining floor.
"As you are Christian gentlemen, I entreat you to save me," stammered the lady with a swooning movement forward; De Moncada caught her to prevent her falling at his feet; he looked not at her but at his brother.
Flaminio, who had been very languid all day, was now full of animation; his comely face was flushed to a semblance of health, his eyes sparkled with enthusiasm.
"Did I not say," he cried, "that she was in need of our protection?"
"Indeed, noble cavalier," answered Faustina, "I am." She gently withdrew from De Moncada's support, at the same time giving him a reproachful glance. "I meant to tell you this afternoon—"
"You have been meeting my brother?" exclaimed Flaminio jealously.
"...By chance—in the amphitheatre, he was not encouraging, but you signor, perhaps have a tender heart?"
"I have also a useless arm," sighed Flaminio, "but I am sure that my brother's sword is at your disposal."
"For what cause?" asked De Moncada drily.
The lady had now seated herself, with a baffling mingling of simplicity and assurance in her air; De Moncada was alarmed by the intensity of admiration with which his brother regarded her; how skilfully he had concealed his interest in the fair, mysterious stranger, until it has been thus startled from him...she told her tale demurely; the daughter of a noble house, she had been offered a brutal choice between an old, ugly husband and a convent, and had contrived to flee the dilemma with one faithful Indian groom and jewels she sold one by one...she did not deny that she had deliberately taken the same route as the brothers, their splendid equipage had given her confidence.
"That your tale has been the theme of a thousand romances does not render it impossible," remarked De Moncada. "But one character is missing—it is usual in these circumstances for the lady to elope with a lover."
"I had none."
"That is hard to believe."
"She means," put in Flaminio eagerly, "none whom she favoured. But what, signora, is your destination?"
"Rome. I have a widowed aunt there, the Princess Dolabella, who will, I am sure, afford me every protection."
"We also travel to Rome," cried the younger brother with impulsive delight. "If we can assist you—"
Faustina drew her chair slightly nearer the couch.
"That is what I came to entreat. I have just discovered that I am followed—oh, the horror of it!" She seemed too overcome to continue and Flaminio caught at her delicate hand in deep compassion at her distress; De Moncada surveyed both critically; they appeared like lovers, in youth, beauty and mutual tenderness.
"How, signora," he asked, "can we preserve you from your pursuers?"
She had her scheme ready; she had seen women in their retinue—the nurse, the serving girl...Might not she, poor, humble, hunted creature, be absorbed into their splendour? No one would look for her among the servants of the Spanish grandees, she could disguise herself, she would be no trouble, nay, she was skilful with her hands in cooking, needlework, nursing...the little groom, too, was a useful creature..."And you, noble cavaliers, will be doing a good deed that will certainly be rewarded in Heaven."
Flaminio could scarcely allow her to finish her pretty speech before he had passionately agreed to her request...they both looked at De Moncada like children coaxing for an impossible favour, which, however, they are sure of obtaining...the elegant young man on the couch, brilliant-eyed, flushed with pleasure, the girl whose hand he was clasping and whose glance held an eager appeal...remembering her remarks made at the ruins, De Moncada smiled; before that smile she had the grace, or the innocency, to blush.
"If this does not appear an incredible adventure to you, signora," he remarked, "there is no need for it to appear so to me. You will be safe from your pursuers in our apartments, and Leonilda, the duenna, will see to your accommodation."
Flaminio added nothing to this; he kissed her hands, and joy suddenly filled the eye of the elder brother; the two of them had contrived, as the courier had observed, to be very happy together on their travels; they had enjoyed everything; even Flaminio's illness had not been able to overshadow their joy in each other and in the pursuit of life and beauty; they were philosophers; "If Death travels with us we will show him we are good company." There had been no need for this consoling angel, who with such practised tenderness was bending over the invalid...
De Moncada went downstairs and summoned the padrone, who had a thousand apologies, a million regrets...the four miserable strangers proved, upon investigation, to be most dubious characters...he was about to forbid them the inn, to send for the police...
"You will do nothing of the kind, leave these people to their designs. They amuse me—you understand?"
"But if your Excellency has any treasures—"
"I am well able to protect them."
"But—" the padrone ventured on a whisper of timid respect—"one little word—there is a Lady, I hear—if your Excellency will deign to listen—"
"No less. She travels with them, but apart, her tricks have emptied many pockets—such a charming creature with so well-bred an air!"
"Of what use would she be to them," smiled De Moncada drily, "if she were not precisely that? Not a word. I will deal with the case, which I understood perfectly from the first." And he smiled at the recollection of the biscuits eaten from the silver paper, which, when flung away, no doubt contained the message—"Take care, we are watched."
The padrone permitted himself a sigh.
"No doubt the poor lady cannot help herself, they are her masters—she could not get away from them if she would."
De Moncada went out into the garden; the fireflies danced among the apricot trees on the wall, the stars formed a scattered coronal over Verona, the dusky violet of the sky was stained by the golden lights of the city; a church bell was ringing, a guitar strumming; the windows were open on the balcony of the piano nobile, standing beneath, De Moncada could hear his brother's voice, his excited laughter; they were playing chess; their hands were frequently touching as they moved the pieces of crystal and ebony.
"How shall I deal with Flaminio when he discovers who she is? I have bought him everything he desires, shall I not buy him also this illusion? And is not that the only enviable gift—illusion, the starry canopy?"
When he went upstairs the game of chess was over and Flaminio lay reposed, half-asleep on his cushions, the yellow silk book of verse from which he had been reading aloud, slipping from his fingers...at the far end of the room stood the lady, graced with the tender shadows of lamplight which muted her charms to a wraithlike loveliness; she held the case that contained the medals of Otto and Tiberius; her fingers were on the clasp.
As De Moncada knew her prey his course became clear; they must be accomplished rogues, since he carried with him nothing more valuable than that suite of medals.
Flaminio roused at his entrance, beckoned to him and whispered that she was sweeter than Isabella, than honey, than jasmine, that she had effaced the stinging memory of Isabella...
"You know, I have been musing about her ever since I saw her first. Is it not a charming, romantical episode? So strange, so delicious, I feel sure she will cure me—or make my last weeks delightful."
De Moncada pressed his brother's hand, so thin, so hot, looked into that wasted, happy face and remembered all the wise, regretful doctors had said of that incurable malady and the fantasies it brings; when his brother slept he went to the corner where the lady still stood; obscured, silent, he took the case of medals from the cabinet at her side where, furtively, she had placed it.
"Signora, my brother's attendants will take him to his chamber, but you must wait here till I return."
"Yes." She gazed at him very earnestly, as if beseeching an explanation, he had nothing more to say; but, before he left the piano nobile, he gave instructions to his lackeys to keep the lady close until he came back.
In the common parlour of "The Lily Pot" the four dingy men sat gloomily over a supper of garlic stew and sour wine; they had not that appearance of confidence De Moncada would have expected from the hopefulness of their present enterprise; they were all considerably alarmed at his entrance, the more so as he locked the door behind him; by this they saw he was in concert with the padrone, and (they feared) the police.
One asked with servile insolence:
"What does your Magnificence in our poor company?"
De Moncada placed the case of medals on the dirty table; four pairs of eyes flashed to this, then to his face, implacable with the composure of the well-bred.
"I believe that these medals are the object of your present industry? No doubt His Serene Highness would pay a good price for the golden Otto alone."
He who appeared to be the leader of the quartette replied, with admirable presence of mind:
"We can compromise no great names, but it is quite true that we could find a market for the medals, but—" he shrugged, "we could not get your Excellency's price."
The others grinned at this impudence, but De Moncada said:
"On the contrary you are well able to do so, you have with you a lady—"
They all peered forward.
"You take me—'tis a creature too pretty for your business." De Moncada glanced impressively from one to another of the expectant evil faces and removed squeamishly a pace away from such greasy ruffians. "I have a fancy to take her into my household."
"Your Excellency's household?" Their amazement was amusing; they gaped at each other, they nudged frayed elbows into lean ribs; they mouthed plainly enough—"Hist, 'tis a lunatic!"
De Moncada dealt with them briskly.
"The case of medals is yours if you at once leave Verona and make no attempt to molest the lady, who is, henceforth, one of my retinue; in brief, I buy her from you."
The leader of the four rose, and bowed before the superb presence of the Spanish grandee.
"A cavalier of industry has his honour, ours is pledged to carry out your wishes in every particular—at the price of the suite of medals."
"Should I see you," replied De Moncada, "anywhere near my equipage I deliver you at once to the police, and I have no doubt you will be broken on the wheel."
He watched them contemptuously as they clutched at the case, tore it open and gloated over the treasures...Flaminio had cared so little for these expensive rarities...the girl was more cheaply bought...to purchase a dream with gold, that were cleverly done, eh?
One ruffian lamented:
"Yet, I regret Rosetta, 'twill take us long to train such another."
"Silence!" another snarled, cringing before De Moncada. "I would sell twenty wenches for the Tiberius set alone—I will at once send Rosetta to your Excellency."
De Moncada unlocked the door.
"She is already in my apartments."
They shot glances at each other and appeared confounded; then sly laughter overcame them.
"We did not know, Excellency, the jade was so quick and cunning."
He flung open the door.
"Wretches, begone, and remember that if you ever permit yourselves in my sight again you are no better than dead men."
They bowed, they scraped, they slobbered thanks and were indeed gone across the sala d'entrata into the warm gaiety of the night.
De Moncada was as convinced that he would never see them again as he was of his own eternal salvation; he returned light-hearted to his prisoner of the piano nobile; reconciled to her situation, she was seated at his costly harpsichord, playing by the light of pure wax candles in crystal stands some music of his she had found on the keyboard—a setting of verses by Carlo Goldoni.
"Donna Leonilda, your duenna," she smiled, "begged me to play so that your brother might hear in his chamber." And she sang, in a voice sweet as honeycomb, fine as silk, words so full of gaiety that they filled the gracious room with sparkles of gold.
De Moncada advanced, master of the situation and of her destiny; she rose and did not seem frightened.
"Child," he said, though he was but little the elder his gravity saved this title from absurdity, "I have rescued you from your odious employment—I have purchased your freedom and in return I expect some service from you."
She curtsied; she was not the woman ever to say "I do not understand"—her method was to wait till all was clear.
"The four ruffians who were your masters have gone," he continued. "I gave them the case of medals you were about to—remove—and they will not be seen again. I shall now keep you in my household and, Faustina or Rosetta, whichever is your name, I expect you to maintain before my brother, the very silly tale you told us."
"Does he believe it?"
"He is young, romantical, ill. It has been my pride to buy him every toy he requires—I wish to buy him this dream."
"To draw over his common skies the starry canopy, eh?"
"You're quick. You will have no difficulty in playing the part I have assigned to you."
Her response to these commands was not what he had expected; she sat down on the seat before the harpsichord.
"You're slow. And absurd. Did I not tell you this afternoon that your life is so artificial that you understand nothing?"
"I understand very well that you are the accomplice of these cavaliers of industry. And it is impossible for us to dispute. I must ask you to play the part I have assigned to you, or—"
She filled in his impressive pause:
"The police, I suppose?"
"You could expect no more than justice. But I would give our compact a more elegant turn. I have saved you from a detestable existence, and you I am sure, are soft-hearted. I beg you to consider my brother."
"I do. And I have your meaning. He is grievously ill and has taken a fantastic fancy for me—my foolish tale was magic to him, and not to rob him of that enchantment I am to continue to play a part—until—"
De Moncada answered:
"It is impossible that my brother can live very long," and crossed himself without discovering his pain.
"I am all compassion," she sighed, more outwardly distressed than he. "And were I what you think, I would gladly play the persecuted damsel to give a noble cavalier a little ease. But, unfortunately, signor, you have wasted your case of medals, your time and your patience. I am not the partner of these thieves."
At that De Moncada became angry; he thought that he deserved at least candour.
"How have you so much impudence? I found you with the case in your hands."
"Pure idle curiosity, I assure you," she replied sadly. "Your brother was reading poetry and I was—bored."
De Moncada permitted himself a smile.
"Come then, with your next invention. If you are not these men's decoy, who are you?"
"You would never believe me if I told you the truth."
"I already know the truth," but he was a little puzzled, a little shaken by her steadfast expression; to strengthen himself he added with grandeur. "I am not accustomed to make mistakes."
"Alas! you are not accustomed to have them pointed out."
They were interrupted by the padrone, escorted by the lackeys, still insisting on being brought into His Excellency's presence—pompous, important, with deep reverences to the lady; with much parade he handed to De Moncada the case of medals—His Excellency would forgive the intrusion, but he must deliver this personally—the case had His Excellency's name and arms—eh, a fortunate chance!
Pale with chagrin De Moncada demanded:
"Where has this been obtained? You did not dare to inform the police about these men?"
"Nay, nay, but they were already well known in that quarter and were arrested as they were about to leave the city; this, with other stolen property, was found on them—-"
De Moncada was about to explain, in deep vexation—"I gave them the medals"—when the padrone added:
"And with them was the little minx of whom I ventured to warn your honour, the sly Rosetta—"
De Moncada, being quite unable to speak, the lady replied:
"The noble cavalier is grateful to you for your zeal—I congratulate you on the activity of the police in Verona."
The tone in which she said this caused both to look at her; she seemed to command the situation, and under cover of her serenity the padrone took his leave; the young man stared at her and exclaimed:
"Is it possible I am a fool?"
"Is it possible that any of us are not?"
"But I thought 'twas you the padrone pointed out—and the silver paper—was there no message in it?"
Plainly she did not understand his allusion; he told her the episode of the biscuit, and she forebore to laugh, but answered:
"How many different tales I could tell you and how doubtful you would be of them all!"
"I hardly deserve the truth—but of your charity—"
"Do not lower thy Spanish pride, cavalier, 'tis that which I from the first, admired in thee."
At this familiar address he came nearer, forgetting his late discomfiture; lovely were the wax lights in the pleasant chamber, the fireflies danced without under the stars, the night flowers were prodigal of their perfume; the young man felt that till this moment his life had been of an intolerable formality, filled with pedantries and follies; she put her hand lightly on his sleeve.
"What did you say to me to-day in the amphitheatre—' Beneath that Campanian luxury all seemed transformed '? Such a starry veil, shot with many rich colours could I weave for thee—dost thou remember Civita Nova and the tower on the sea shore?"
"I remember." He was enthralled; for the first time in many months he had forgotten his brother; she held out hopes to him as the sirens in the wall paintings held out branches of rosy coral to the plumed heroes; he, as they, paused to take the gift.
"A woman looked down on thee as thou went by in the blue afternoon, the sea was turning gold as she came down the stairs with a little Indian groom—'Stay, cavalier, stay!'—but thou would'st not pause."
"Ah, I never knew!"
"So I followed thee. I am rich, free, a princess. I do what I please—of all my suitors I chose thee. But thou! Where is thy nobility? In thy eyes I was a thief—"
He implored her pardon, all his grandeur forgotten...yet knew that he could never hope for forgiveness; he was worse than a fool, he accused himself bitterly of every stupidity, of every meanness; all the painted sirens looking at him seemed to smile in unison at his surrender.
She assured him, with gentle sighs, that this was too late—"One misses by a hair what a world of regrets will never regain."
This was the one moment of the young man's life beside which all the others seemed a crowded nothingness; the lady leant towards him and kissed him; the fireflies and the stars seemed to dance into the lonely chamber and the sirens on the walls to catch them on their branches of coral...
She broke his enchantment with laughter.
"Wilt thou have thy starry canopy withdrawn?"
She drew away from him; still laughing she emptied her pockets on the harpsichord...his jewels, his brother's watch, the case of medals..."Was it ever so easy to fool a man!" She had stolen the last under his very eyes..."Though I do not work for these four ugly ruffians, you were correct as to my profession."
The candles burnt clear on a cold world; the night air was bitter; the impossible pleasure, the incredible happiness had, in vanishing, left an acrid perfume behind, the ashes of illusion reeked in the nostrils of De Moncada; but his breeding enabled him to preserve his composure even in face of her mockery.
"One is fortunate if one can even kiss one's chimera—why did you tell me? You might have escaped with your plunder."
She answered with what he knew was not the truth.
"I could not resist showing you how clever I was," and she turned, empty-handed, to the door, knowing the kiss had secured her from punishment.
Doña Leonilda opened the folding doors' that led to the bedchamber of the younger brother.
"The Conde Flaminio is very ill—he is light-headed and asks continuously for the lady."
"Doña Faustina, a noble orphan who travels in our charge as far as Rome," said De Moncada, with a grand gesture towards the lady at the door, "she will, out of her great compassion and gentleness attend you to my brother."
The duenna, wiping a tear, hurried back to her patient; the lady hesitated, her mockery vanished in distress...she had never met such a foolish man nor one who had made her behave so foolishly...sharp regrets stung till she sighed in pain.
"Signora, my brother is waiting."
Without giving him a glance she passed between the folding doors the duenna had left open; De Moncada heard the joyful cry with which his brother greeted her; he carefully put away the riflings she had returned: "The dreams of an Emperor, the pleasures of a Tiberius lie now in a little yellow coin—the arena of Verona bereft of the silken veil that gave illusion to thousands is grown with weeds and used by mountebanks—I believed I had clasped a divinity and found I embraced a pickpocket who wanted my watch...without such changes and deception love would be very dull."
The grandee listened to a pleasant voice singing very low to the sick man; it seemed that the painted sirens hid their faces, that the heroes sailed away and that the false flames of the fireflies withered in the beams of the moon which began to blaze over Verona.
"Surely her behaviour means that she loves me—she has all the arts that create illusion—what more could I demand of Venus? Surely she will help me to draw the rosy veil over the dying eyes of my brother—what more could I ask of the Holy Virgin?"
The moon rising above the towers of Verona sent a pure radiance that shamed the wax lights in the pleasant chamber; the sirens faded into a mere design of rose and gold while the Spanish grandee added to himself:
"I am indeed fortunate."
Told to the Cardinal Archbishop, Prince Louis de Rohan,
at Strasbourg, of the Maréchal le Duc de Pillars and the Revolt of the
Camisards. [CEVENNES, FRANCE, 18th Century.]
Monseigneur the Maréchal de Villars rode into the town of Lodéve, after riding through devastated Languedoc, in a contemplative mood. Although this was his own country it was as strange to him as if it had been the centre of the newly-discovered Indies; he had been sent to quell the revolt of the Camisards, those French Protestants who, for six years, had defied the authority of His Most Christian Majesty. It was, of course, a very extraordinary thing that it was necessary for a Maréchal de France, one who had contended on equal terms with the greatest generals of the age, who had served with glory for ten years in Flanders and was one of the most consummate politicians and courtiers at the Court of Versailles, to be sent to quell the rebellion of a handful of heretics and peasants. There were those who were surprised that Louis Hector, Duc de Villars, had accepted such a task—even to please the aged and querulous King, who regarded him with close affection, even in the face of the rewards and flatteries that same affection promised in the case of success; but M. de Villars was one of the most amiable, as well as one of the most able of men, and, remarking "Another ribbon with a jewel at the end will incommode nobody," he had taken his three thousand dragoons and, after tedious and slow marching, established his headquarters at Lodéve, in the midst of that gloomy range of desolate mountains, The Cevennes, where the desperate and frantic Protestants made that last stand which disturbed with a civil war a kingdom that had too many other wars to confront.
M. de Villars (his fine countenance thoughtful) had ridden through these, to him, unknown regions, so wild, sombre and remote from what he called civilization; he had passed burnt villages, ruined churches, razed granges, and smouldering farms, and turning in his saddle, had made this ironic comment "that but for the hills it might have been Flanders so complete was the devastation." His predecessors in authority had not been merciful—torturing and burning, the rack, the wheel, and the gibbet had been for six years tried as a means to bring the Camisards to reason; most of the inhabitants of Languedoc were in the galleys, in prisons, in exile, but there still was the obstinate remnant, led by a certain Captain Cavalier, who had shown himself a bold and resolute leader with the power of inspiring confidence in his men. Perhaps not more than six thousand of these fanatics, ensconced in the woods and caves of the gloomy mountains where the Rhone divides le Bas Languedoc from the Province of Dauphiné; mystical, desperate heretics who had witnessed and survived the atrocities committed by Du Chaila, Archpriest of The Cevennes, ferocious, exalted avengers of innocent blood who had helped to drag Du Chaila out of his house and murder him one howling winter night, obstinate rebels who were resolved at no cost to submit to Roman Catholic government; a Maréchal de France was to subdue this handful of untrained heretics, of rude peasants.
"Who is this Cavalier?" asked M. de Villars indifferently.
No one knew; some said he was a baker's boy, some a farmer's lout; in that devastated and desolate country there was no one to give him exact news of Captain Cavalier...the few wretched people left on the ruined land fled at the approach of the spreading armies.
De Villars' instructions at Versailles had been precise enough: "Get Cavalier, and the revolt is quelled." And the Maréchal had wagered a thousand louis d'or that he would get Cavalier and quell the revolt and be back at Versailles in three months...and that, mon Dieu! was too long an exile...
Established at Lodéve he disclosed his plans to no one, but he stopped the persecutions instantly; there were no more arrests, the hangman rested, gibbet and wheel waited in vain for fresh prey; after a we k or so of this indulgence, the tormented people who survived began slowly to creep again about the ruins of their devastated homes. M. de Villars, amiable and composed in Lodéve, waited and watched, accepting boredom with good breeding, and took the opportunity of adding a few chapters to his "Mémoires" on the arts of war. It was a hot August day of sultry, brazen heat when a man requested permission to see the Maréchal de Villars; this stranger was at once admitted to the soldier's presence; this stranger, who had said he was a native of The Cevennes (his accent proved this at least to be true) and that he was a Roman Catholic gentleman, bearing the name of La Fleurette.
The Maréchal de Villars received him in the sombre, ill-lit parlour with a serene courtesy that should have put him at his ease, but he appeared rather overwhelmed by the presence of the Maréchal, who was one of the handsomest, most extravagant and charming of men at the Court of Versailles, then in the prime of his years and the height of his glory, and adorned in all the bravery of the most sumptuous Court in Europe, laced uniform, orders, tassels—as carefully arrayed as if he was in Flanders, in the company of ruling Princes.
La Fleurette, on the contrary, wore a coffee-coloured suit of a provincial cut, a plain neck-cloth, carelessly dressed hair, and a hat without buckles or plumes; his lean face was dark and earnest, and he had powerful, nervous hands.
"Monseigneur," he began defiantly, overriding his own embarrassment, "I am a Roman Catholic—I have suffered at the hands of these Camisards, these rebels, for every one severity which has been visited on them by the Government they have retorted with two, or even three atrocities, they are robbers, murderers, ravishers, and they are kept together by this man who calls himself Captain Cavalier."
"So much I knew," agreed the Maréchal pleasantly.
"It's extraordinary," exclaimed La Fleurette, walking up and down uneasily, "that a Maréchal and peer of France should be sent against such a horde of ruffians, and "—he paused, significantly, and added with a certain ferocity—"do you believe, Monseigneur le Maréchal, that you will succeed in capturing this Captain Cavalier, or in coming to terms with him?"
"Monsieur," replied M. de Villars, "both my training and experience have taught me to believe nothing. Do you know anything of this Captain Cavalier?" he added indifferently.
"I know a great deal. I have wormed myself into his confidence. He believes me one of his supporters now, and I have come here to betray him into your hands."
"For what reason and for what reward?" asked M. de Villars, who had heard this manner of offer a great many times in the course of his numerous campaigns.
"The man is ruining the country. But for him the others would submit; the terms he asks are impossible, His Majesty would never grant them. Why, the bold ruffian dares to demand the release of all the Protestants from the prisons and galleys, and the guarantee of liberty of religion in The Cevennes!" La Fleurette laughed fervently and harshly, his quick eyes averted.
To this outburst M. de Villars replied, with a pleasant smile: "Is this Cavalier a gentleman?"
La Fleurette appeared startled, he was taken aback, and hesitated, and then said: "No, he is a peasant."
"But, I think, a noble and generous one?" added the Maréchal indulgently. "Tell me how you propose to deliver him into my hands."
"A woman baits the trap," answered La Fleurette sombrely. "He will come to-morrow night to the Château of Castelnau, which is outside the town—you may have seen it, Monseigneur. The lady is a Roman Catholic and a Loyalist; but she has, at length, by agreement with me, consented to receive this rebel-lover of hers who has so long solicited her in vain. Captain Cavalier will be alone with the lady and her servants, all Loyalists, in the château to-morrow night. If you come with a few of your guards, you can surprise him."
M. de Villars smiled, he flicked a speck of dust from his brocaded cuff and remarked, quietly, "I shall be there."
"I should advise you to come yourself," added La Fleurette, "and not to bring too many soldiers, for that will attract suspicion; nor is there any need for a considerable force, Cavalier will be undefended."
"I shall come myself," replied the Maréchal, who seemed amused at the other's rustic simplicity.
"Certainly," added La Fleurette, and this time, violently: "If you do not, I and some others who are in this will think that you are afraid...Cavalier is a man...he is never afraid...we should like to know that you are his equal."
"I will certainly come myself," replied M. de Villars, and, after a moment's pause and reflection, M. La Fleurette was ushered out with a certain ceremony.
The Maréchal had the curiosity to go to the tall, narrow window and watch his strange visitor cross the courtyards, pass the sentries and the groups of lounging soldiers, mount a shaggy-looking horse and ride through the quiet, hot streets of Lodéve. M. de Villars reflected: "I have three thousand dragoons quartered here, and he knew it—brave, no doubt, as he said himself."
It was a night of suffocating heat and purple thunder clouds riding against the moon, which hung above the gloomy mountains of The Cevennes as M. de Villars rode up to the Château of Castelnau; he halted awhile outside the gates of the garden; all was quiet, all looked, even by the moonlight, as every residence in The Cevennes looked, ruined and deserted; beyond the gardens were dense woods.
M. de Villars was admitted instantly, at his first light knock on the door, and one ragged, abased creature led his horse away, while another conducted the soldier to a decayed and dismal room with tarnished furniture, lit only by the coarse rays from a broken lamp; La Fleurette was seated at the rough table with a pile of papers under his hand.
"Good evening, Monseigneur," he said, 'rising; his weather-beaten face was pallid, his lips strained and his eyes bloodshot. "How many soldiers have you brought?"
"None," replied the Maréchal serenely, seating himself immediately by right of his rank.
"None? But have you not come here to capture Captain Cavalier?"
"I believe," replied the Maréchal, "that Captain Cavalier and I can come to terms without the aid of a troop of horse."
La Fleurette stared at him with savage incredulity. He snatched up the lamp and held it closer, while he scanned the calm and handsome features of M. le Maréchal de Villars, who endured this scrutiny with the most amiable of glances and smiling serenity.
"You have come here alone!" gasped La Fleurette, "two miles outside the town, in this lonely part, without even a couple of guards?"
"You may see for yourself," answered de Villars negligently; "you are, I perceive, of the type that only personal evidence will satisfy."
La Fleurette set down the lamp. "I could scarcely credit," he muttered, "that any man, even a fine gentleman, could be such a fool. If I told you that five hundred of the most resolved Camisards were in the woods round this house, and in an inner chamber were their most trusted leaders—Captain Cavalier's officers, Ravenal, Conderc, Rustalet—that you have walked straightly, deliberately, into a trap—a simple, banal sort of a trap...By heaven!" he added, in an access of excitement, "I had not believed in a deed so easy!"
M. de Villars did not reply; baffled by his look of amusement La Fleurette hastily left the room, locking the door behind him.
A quick scrutiny, a swift enquiry, showed him that the Maréchal had spoken the truth—he had brought no soldiers, not even a valet with him. La Fleurette therefore returned eagerly to his sumptuous prisoner, who had neither changed his attitude nor his expression, but sat pensive, as if slightly bored, at the mean table which held the lantern and the papers.
"Are you satisfied, M. la Fleurette, that I am alone?"
"I am satisfied," replied La Fleurette roughly. "Sign, in the name of the King of France, these Camisard terms, for which they have been fighting for six years!" He struck his hand violently on the pile of papers, "Here they are, carefully drafted—our demands—"
The Maréchal, whose splendour was strangely out of place in the sordid room, and whose serenity contrasted strangely with the violence of the other, replied coolly:
"My dear Captain Cavalier, I shall obviously sign nothing."
"You know me, then?" cried he who had called himself "La Fleurette."
"I know you, Captain Cavalier."
"Well, then, since you know me," said the Camisard leader sternly, "I may tell you, M. de Villars, who are so great a soldier, so brilliant a politician, that you have walked into a very simple trap—there is no lady in this Château, it is the meeting place of the leaders of what you term 'the rebellion'. We planned this desperate scheme to get hold of you; we thought we could dispose of your troop of horse and hold you prisoner until you signed our terms, but I never hoped it would be as easy as this..."
"It is not so easy," replied M. de Villars, "though not, I hope, too difficult. Of course, I shall not sign."
"You are in my power," replied Captain Cavalier harshly.
"Precisely for that reason I shall not sign. And you, my dear Cavalier, will not endeavour to force me. On the contrary, you will permit me to ride back to Lodéve, exactly as "—he rose as he spoke—"I permitted you to ride out of Lodéve yesterday."
"But you did not know who I was," protested Captain Cavalier.
M. de Villars turned away his face with a look of amusement.
"I brought your description with me to Languedoc, my dear Captain Cavalier; your movements, too, have been watched; the Government has its spies. I knew you yesterday, and I guessed your trap...not so difficult; I am now in your power, precisely as you were in mine yesterday; then, by simply lifting my finger, I could have sent you to the rack or the wheel; now, by lifting a finger you can send me to something equally unpleasant. But, of course," added the Maréchal carelessly, "it would be impossible for you to do so."
"Why?" demanded Captain Cavalier roughly and fiercely, "I am not a fine courtier, I am not a peer of France, I am not even a gentleman."
"But I," M. de Villars gently reminded him, "treated you as one, Captain Cavalier."
They looked steadily at each other in the uncertain light, and the glance of M. de Villars bore down that of Captain Cavalier.
"It's I who have been the fool," muttered the rebel sullenly and uneasily.
"Not at all," said the Maréchal amiably, "merely a little impetuous."
"Why did you come here?" questioned Captain Cavalier, baffled and humiliated, "why put yourself in my power?"
"That we might come to a direct and personal understanding. It is possible in no other way," replied the Maréchal. "I have always liked to meet my opponents face to face. It is my office to quell this rebellion, yours to maintain it. I have never failed in any task yet that has been set me, and this is by no means the most difficult of my tasks."
"A threat?" demanded Captain Cavalier, "and from a man in my power?"
The Maréchal smiled: "From the man who had you in his power yesterday."
Frowning, uneasy, troubled, Cavalier pointed with a gaunt finger to the papers he had prepared. "Sign those," he said, "and the war is over. I meant that you should sign them, with one pistol at your head and another at your ribs."
"But, by now, you will have perceived, my dear Captain Cavalier," replied the Maréchal with his gracious smile, "that that was rather a crude error of judgment—slightly...provincial! You will perceive also that it would have been perfectly useless. No force or menace would induce me to sign what I did not wish to sign."
"What is to prevent me," muttered Captain Cavalier, "from giving the signal to have you delivered to those who would have no scruples or nice feelings in dealing with you—those who would tear you limb from limb, as the representative of the King and the Pope?"
"There is nothing to prevent you," declared the Maréchal delicately, "but it would be without precedent for one General so to treat another."
"I am no General," replied Cavalier sullenly and uneasily, "I am a mere peasant of Languedoc, and proud to take command of her inhabitants..."
"You are a soldier," returned M. de Villars, "and, I believe, a noble and generous one. I have heard it said in Versailles that Cavalier has behaved like a gentleman, though a heretic—"
"You heard that at Versailles?" asked the rebel, looking up across the thick, hot shadows of the narrow room.
"I have heard at Versailles, and elsewhere nothing but honour of you, Cavalier; I should like to see you on my staff, when next year I open the campaign in Flanders."
"Why did you come here?" muttered the rebel, baffled and overwhelmed before the serene glance, the pleasant voice, the commanding presence.
"To make your better acquaintance, my dear Cavalier," replied the Maréchal suavely, "that object being achieved, it is useless to prolong the interview to the point of tedium."
With no more than this, M. de Villars rose and left the room with as much ease and leisure as if he had been sauntering from one gallery of Versailles to another, drawing on his gloves and adjusting his fringed sash after his usual manner.
Captain Cavalier did not attempt to impede his enemy's departure; he fell back naturally before him and followed him down the dusty, dark stairs out into the hot moonlit courtyard, where he whistled, and sullenly ordered the ragged groom to bring the Maréchal's horse, which came pacing delicately through the desolation.
The Camisard leaders within the house and the Camisard soldiers hidden without the house waited tensely for their chief's signal; it was not given.
When the Maréchal found the long white road to Lodéve clear before him, and Cavalier who had escorted him a short distance on foot, was sullenly leaving him, he turned in his saddle:
"Captain Cavalier, here is the counterpart of those papers you wished me to sign—the terms, I believe, are the same." He took from his breast a sealed packet and held it out.
"Signed?" cried Captain Cavalier, halting, "already signed?"
"Signed before I left Versailles," replied M. de Villars, "my instructions were to grant you the terms if I found you worthy of them—if I could trust you to keep them."
The rebel leader grasped the package stupidly: "Signed before you left Versailles? And you never told me yesterday, or now when I might have had you killed for refusing to sign—I don't understand...why you played this part..."
"Endeavour to do so," smiled the Maréchal, "it is well worth while. Good night, Captain Cavalier!"
When the rebellion was over and peace was restored to the devastated province of Languedoc, when the Maréchal de Villars had returned to Versailles and had collected his thousand louis d'or, when Captain Cavalier had a pair of colours in His Majesty's Musketeers, someone had the curiosity to ask M. de Villars how he had contrived, after so many had failed, to subdue the obstinate and ferocious peasant and turn him into a loyal soldier of His Majesty?
"By treating him as a gentleman," said the Maréchal de Villars negligently.
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